P. G. Wodehouse
Literary and Cultural References
This is part of an ongoing effort by the members of the Blandings Yahoo! Group to document references, allusions, quotations, etc. in the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
Summer Lightning was originally annotated by Mark Hodson (aka The Efficient Baxter). Notes signed “A Gentleman of Leisure” are by the late Terry Mordue. The notes have been reformatted and substantially edited and extended by Neil Midkiff and others as credited below, but credit goes to Mark for his original efforts, even while we bear the blame for errors of fact or interpretation. Notes flagged * are new in 2018–19; notes flagged ° are revised in 2018–19.
Summer Lightning was serialized in the UK Pall Mall magazine, March through September 1929, and in the US Collier’s weekly magazine from 6 April 1929 through 22 June 1929. It was published in book form under the title Fish Preferred by Doubleday, Doran in the USA on 1 July 1929, and by Herbert Jenkins in the UK under the original title on 19 July 1929. It See Neil Midkiff’s web page of the Wodehouse novels for details of variants between the versions.
Page references and chapter titles in these notes are based on the Herbert Jenkins edition, in which the text covers pages 13–318. The text of Fish Preferred runs from page 1 to page 326, and the chapters have no titles.
The alternate American title is a reference to Ronnie Fish’s social standing, which rises and falls during the book like a stock market quotation; see below. It has nothing to do with a culinary preference for seafood. °
This was the third full-length Blandings novel, following Something Fresh/Something New (1915) and Leave It to Psmith (1923). The Blandings short stories of the 1920s, which precede the action of this book, only appeared in book form later, in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935) and Lord Emsworth and Others (1937).
[, P. G. Wodehouse, A Portrait of a Master (1981) ]
See Neil Midkiff’s list of the Blandings novels and stories and his web page of the Wodehouse stories for details on the appearances of the short stories. In story time, the action of Summer Lightning takes place two years following Leave It to Psmith (1923), and about ten days prior to Heavy Weather (1933). °
Dedication (page [v] of UK first edition)
“Greenery Street,” “The Flower Show”
And other Books which I wish I had Written
Denis Mackail (1892–1971), a grandson of the painter Burne-Jones and thus a cousin of Kipling as well as the younger brother of the novelist Angela Thirkell, started out as a stage designer, but became friendly with Wodehouse when the latter sent him a “fan” letter on the publication of his first novel, What Next? (1920). They continued to exchange letters until Mackail’s death.
Mackail’s best-known novel is Greenery Street. He also wrote a biography of the playwright J. M. Barrie, with whom he worked in his early days.
[The US first edition of Fish Preferred has no dedication.]
A certain critic (Preface; page vii)
This is possibly a reference to J. B. Priestley.
In a letter to Denis Mackail, Wodehouse wrote of his critics:
Priestley, however, was the worst of all, because he analysed me, blast him, and called attention to the thing I try to hush up -- viz that I have only got one plot and produce it once a year with variations. I wish to goodness novelists wouldn’t review novels.
The letter was written in October 1932.
According to Barry Phelps, Wodehouse was referring to Priestley’s review (in the London Evening News, 31 May 1929) of Mr. Mulliner Speaking. So it is possible that the “certain critic” was, indeed, Priestley.
It should be noted that Frances Donaldson states (without any citation) that the book being reviewed by Priestley was Hot Water. But as that book wasn’t published until August 1932, it seems somewhat unlikely that Priestley would have been reviewing it more than three years earlier!
Despite Wodehouse’s complaint to Mackail, we shouldn’t forget that he admired Priestley and the latter returned the sentiment: in that same review, Priestley wrote: “If anybody wants a test of real high-and-dry-browism here is one to hand: an inability to enjoy Mr Wodehouse.”
A Gentleman of Leisure
01 August 2002
eaten by bears … prophet Elisha (Preface; page vii) *
See II Kings 2:23–24.
eventually appear in volume form (Preface; page vii) *
See Notes above.
always popping down to Shropshire (Preface; page vii) *
Wodehouse’s parents lived in Stableford, near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, from 1895 to 1902, and from Leave It to Psmith onward, Blandings Castle is set in the vicinity.
Thackeray … ran seven times round (Preface; page viii) *
In the introduction by Stephen Gwynn to an 1899 edition of Vanity Fair, the story is told that he ran three times round the room, not seven.
too late to alter it now (Preface; page viii) *
Clearly his editors at Doubleday, Doran & Co. did not agree with this point of view, since they selected Fish Preferred for their hardcover publication even though the Collier’s serial had been under the “Summer Lightning” title.
Hundred Best Books Called Summer Lightning (Preface; page viii)
The Library of Congress lists books of this title by:
Allene Corliss (1936)
Jakob Druckman (1991)
G. F. Hummel (1929)
Sandra James (1989)
Judith Richards (1976)
Olive Senior (stories, 1986)
The British Library adds:
Simon Dare (Marjorie Huxtable, 1950)
Ernest Denny (a three-act comedy, 1927)
W. E. B. Henderson (1922)
Jill Tahourdin (1960)
...and a search of the ABE Books secondhand database reveals a few more, mostly romantic novels in paperback:
Lydia Browne (1995)
Sandra Chastain, Helen Mittermeyer, & Patricia Potter (1992)
Marjorie Norrel (1970)
Anne Weale (1971)
Wendy Staub (1993)
Becky Lee Weyrich (1985)
...so Wodehouse’s figures seem roughly right, if a little exaggerated. Hummel, Denny, and Henderson are the only prior examples I could find, but of course, even though when I found multiple dates I took the earliest, it’s not certain that all the books in the list above are first editions.
Chapter 1 (Ch.1; page 13)
Trouble Brewing at Blandings
Runs from pp. 13 to 41 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
stately home of England (Ch.1; page 13) *
See Right Ho, Jeeves.
Beach, butler to Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth (Ch.1; page 13) *
the shade of a laurel bush (Ch.1; page 13) *Probably not the Mediterranean Laurus nobilis, the source of culinary bay leaves, nor the California bay laurel, Umbellularia californica. In English gardens this is likely to be Prunus laurocerasus, an evergreen shrub with deep-green glossy roundish leaves, which can reach 3 to 5 meters in height.
the contents of a long glass (Ch.1; page 13) *
No doubt Beach has selected a whisky-and-soda for this hot afternoon, or perhaps brandy-and-soda. In any event the long glass tells us that it is some species of highball (the tall glass helps to contain the splash from the soda syphon) rather than a shaken cocktail or a glass of port.
fruity (Ch.1; page 13) *
Hugo Carmody (Ch.1; page 14) *
We first meet Hugo in Money for Nothing (1928).
Miss Millicent (Ch.1; page 14) *
As will soon be apparent, Millicent Threepwood is the daughter of Lord Emsworth’s late brother Lancelot. She appears only in the present book.
Lady Constance Keeble (Ch.1; page 14) *
We first meet Lady Constance, sister to Lord Emsworth, and her husband Joseph Keeble in Leave It to Psmith (1923). In succeeding stories she is Keeble’s widow and, as here, chatelaine at Blandings until her remarriage to James Schoonmaker, which has taken place by the time of Galahad at Blandings (1965).
trousered the wages of sin (Ch.1; page 14) *
that is, putting Hugo’s pound note into Beach’s pocket. Wodehouse is here, somewhat unusually, using a phrase from Scripture in a sense different from its Biblical meaning; the apostle Paul writes to the Romans (6:23) that “the wages of sin is death”; in this case Wodehouse uses the phrase with the more literal meaning of “payment for an unethical act.”
Red Indian stuff … not letting a single twig snap (Ch.1; page 15) *
Chingachgook, in several of James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales,” moves silently through the forest. “Occasionally a dried twig snapped under [the tread of his companions]; but, had the Indian walked on air, his step could not have seemed lighter” (The Deerslayer). [See Mark Twain’s essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” for another take on Cooper’s dry twigs.] Wodehouse returns to this idea often in his later stories; Bertie Wooster mentions “not letting a twig snap beneath my feet” in How Right You Are, Jeeves, as does Uncle Fred in Uncle Dynamite and Cocktail Time; Boko Fittleworth proposes to do it in Joy in the Morning, and this is surely not a complete list.
a very moot question (Ch.1; page 15) *
See Money for Nothing for a discussion of Hugo’s use of the term.
beetle down my back (Ch.1; page 15) *
A common complaint among Wodehouse’s characters:
When I tell you that just as I heard these frightful words a fairly substantial beetle of sorts dropped from the bush down the back of my neck, and I couldn’t even stir to squash the same, you will understand that I felt pretty rotten.
“Jeeves Takes Charge” (1916)
“Somebody put a beetle down my back!”
Harold, in “The Purity of the Turf” (1922)
He had been as still as a statue until a moment before, when a large and excitable beetle had fallen down the space between his collar and his neck, an experience which might well have tried the subtlest woodsman.
Edward Cootes, in Leave It to Psmith (1923)
Then Ronald, releasing her gently, began to slap himself between the shoulder-blades.
“Beetle or something down my back,” he explained. “Probably fell off the tree.”
“Gala Night” (1930)
Over by the fireplace, Sir Herbert Bassinger was making a perfect ass of himself. Where a curt, crisp inclination of the head or a brisk “Yes” would have been in order, he was wriggling about as if he had got a beetle down his back and positively babbling.
If I Were You (1931)
In other circs.—if, let us say, I had been reclining in a deck-chair with a cigarette, instead of squatting in a beastly jungle with beetles falling down my neck—I should probably have got a good deal of entertainment and uplift out of the scene and surroundings generally.
Thank You, Jeeves (1934)
Ants crawled up his legs, beetles tried to muscle in between his collar and his neck, and others of God’s creatures, taking advantage of the fact that he had lost his hat, got in his hair.
“Bingo and the Peke Crisis” (1937)
“I say, look here,” he went on, jerking his shoulders in a convulsive gesture, “do you mind if I go and shake out the under-linen? Got a beetle or something down my back.”
Sir George Copstone, in “Excelsior” (1948)
Beetles on the spine are admittedly bad, calling for all that a man has of fortitude and endurance, but when embarking on an enterprise which involved parking the carcass in bushes one more or less budgets it for beetles.
The Mating Season (1949)
She reminded Gally of a girl named Mabel something who, walking with him at a Buckingham Palace garden party in the year 1906, had suddenly become aware that there was a beetle down her back.
Pigs Have Wings (1952)
I said, “Oh, there you are, Stilton. Nice evening”, but it seemed to be the wrong thing, for he merely quivered as if he had got a beetle down his back and increased the incandescence of his gaze.
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954)
From the irritable manner in which he was striking himself between the shoulder blades I received the impression that he had got some sort of a water beetle down his back.
Sidney McMurdo, in “Scratch Man” (1959)
X-ray eye (Ch.1; page 15) *
A Google Books search for this phrase does not find this “penetrating glance” sense of the term before 1929, although it pops up in popular literature soon afterward, as in a 1932 attribution of the power of Florenz Ziegfeld’s eye to discern a future star of stage or screen.
Sing of joy, sing of bliss, home was never like this (Ch.1; page 15) *
A refrain from the song “Yip! I Adee! I Aye” (1908) by Will D. Cobb and John H. Flynn, originally from the Broadway show The Merry Widow and the Devil (1908), later interpolated into the London run of Our Miss Gibbs (1909). Lyrics and further performance information at Lyrics Playground.
heart … bowed down with weight of woe (Ch.1; page 15) *
See Sam the Sudden.
The Hot Spot (Ch.1; page 15)
See Money for Nothing.
Bond Street (Ch.1; page 15)
Running between Oxford Street and Piccadilly, Bond Street is home to many of London’s most expensive shops. The name of the street commemorates Sir Thomas Bond, a courtier and property developer who was part of a consortium that acquired the former site of Clarendon House in the late 17th century to build Old Bond Street. Nowadays London’s nightlife is centered a little further east, around Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square and in Soho.
Biarritz (Ch.1; page 16)
Resort on the Atlantic coast of France, just north of the Spanish border. Became the fashionable place for sea-bathing in 1854, when Napoléon III and his wife Eugénie made it their summer retreat. Later visitors included Edward VII, Elizabeth of Austria, and Queen Victoria. In the 20th century, crowned heads made way for film stars on the beaches and golf courses.
joy, as you might say, will be unconfined (Ch.1; page 16) *
On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto III, st. 22 (1816)
Medbury Selling Plate (Ch.1; page 16)
The only Medbury in Britain is a farm near Bedford, with no obvious racing connection.
There is a sizable town of this name in New Zealand, but Wodehouse probably intends us to take it as fictitious.
A selling plate (claiming race) is a horse race intended for horses at the lowest level of competition. To discourage owners from entering horses of too high a standard, entry is subject to the condition that every horse competing in the race must be offered for sale at a given (low) price.
Edward the Confessor (Ch.1; page 17)
King of England from 1042 to 1066. Caught in the power struggle between Earl Godwin (his father-in-law) and the Normans, he is often blamed for the Norman Conquest which followed his death in 1066. He was very interested in religion and responsible for rebuilding Westminster Abbey.
flower-pots (Ch.1; page 19)
See Leave it to Psmith.
the folding of the hands in sleep (Ch.1; page 19) *
See Heavy Weather.
James ... Thomas (Ch.1; page 20)
The footman was addressed by his Christian name, or rather by a
Christian name, not necessarily his own. The most usual names were Charles,
James, John and John Thomas, the last of whch, thanks to the wide diffusion
of the works of D. H. Lawrence, has for long been in irredeemable disgrace.
[, What the Butler Saw: 250 Years of the Servant Problem Ch.XI, p.170]
gate-leg table (Ch.1; page 20) *
A lightweight table whose top has one or more hinged leaves which, when raised to be level with the fixed top, are supported by a leg framework built in the form of a gate which swings out from the under-structure of the central portion of the table. See image at Wikipedia.
busied herself with the pot (Ch.1; page 21) *
Despite the presence of servants, etiquette dictated that a female member of the household should be in charge of the actual “pouring out” and distribution of teacups.
Soul’s Awakening (Ch.1; page 21) °
See Thank You, Jeeves.
speeches in the House of Lords (Ch.1; page 21)
Like all hereditary peers at this time, Lord Emsworth would have been entitled to sit in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British parliament. The only evidence we have of him doing so is from Service with a Smile, where he meets Lord Ickenham at Moss Bros. after the Opening of Parliament.
Peers and Bishops do not normally wear their hats in the Chamber.
seat of honour by the tea-pot (Ch.1; page 24) *
The position of hostess, who pours out the tea as mentioned above, p. 21.
Norfolk Street (Ch.1; page 24)
Wodehouse lived at 17 Norfolk Street, Mayfair, in 1927 and again in 1928–30. The street, just east of Park Lane, is now called Dunraven Street. This is perhaps Lord Emsworth’s town house, as Murphy suggests, although it isn’t entirely clear – it could also belong to Lady Julia or Lady Constance.
[, In Search of Blandings (1986) 193]
A beau sabreur of Romano’s, a Pink ’Un, a Pelican, ... (Ch.1; page 25)
These are all references to real people and places prominent in London in the 1890s. For a detailed discussion, see Murphy’s Reminiscences of Galahad Threepwood. As Murphy points out, Wodehouse is paying tribute to a very special circle of lively exponents of “Victorian values” from the generation immediately before his own.
Romano’s restaurant in the Strand was the main meeting place of the Pink ’Un/Pelican set. The Gardenia was a dancing club next to the Alhambra Music Hall in Leicester Square.
The Pink ’Un was the Sporting Times, a weekly newspaper (so-called because it was printed on pink paper); the Pelican a club whose members enjoyed a lively time. The Pitcher was Arthur Binstead (1846–1915); The Shifter Willie Goldberg. Hughie Drummond was famous (inter alia) for driving a four-wheeler cab through the doors of the Pelican club.
[, Reminiscences of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood (1993) ]
beau sabreur (Ch.1; page 25)
(French: handsome or dashing swordsman)
This title was originally associated with Napoleon’s cavalry leader, Joachim Murat (17671815). It was brought back into prominence by P. C. Wren’s novel and the corresponding film (1926), a follow-up to Beau Geste.
He had heard the chimes at midnight (Ch.1; page 25) *
That is, he had stayed up late. See Shakespeare: King Henry IV, Part Two.
...what a frightfully bad shot Uncle Gally’s godfathers and godmothers made (Ch.1; page 26)
In the Anglican Church, a child brought for baptism normally has two sponsors (Godparents) of its own sex and one of the opposite sex. Gally, as an aristocratic baby, might well have had more than the usual number.
According to Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, Sir Galahad was the noblest and purest of all the Arthurian knights, and the only one allowed to achieve the quest for the Grail.
His eye was not dimmed nor his natural force abated (Ch.1; page 27)
Perhaps the comparison to Moses on his deathbed is a little incongruous, but this expression has become proverbial.
7 And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye
was not dim, nor his natural force abated.
[Bible Deuteronomy 34:7]
Buffy Struggles (Ch.1; page 28)
Gally also uses this anecdote in Galahad at Blandings.
dead as a door-nail (Ch.1; page 28) *
This trenchant phrase goes back to the fourteenth century; see World Wide Words. Wodehouse may have picked it up from Shakespeare (Jack Cade in King Henry VI, part two); Dickens, or any of a number of sources.
run over by a hansom cab (Ch.1; page 28)
The horse-drawn Hansom cab, where the driver sat high up behind the passenger compartment, was the most common type in London at this time. In photographs of pre-war London, the traffic usually consists mostly of Hansom cabs and horse-buses. Motor cabs only became common in London after the First World War.
as if foxes were gnawing her vitals (Ch.1; page 29) *
See A Damsel in Distress.
I’ll fight him to the House of Lords (Ch.1; page 29)
Although the House of Lords, as the upper chamber of parliament, is theoretically the same institution that acts as Britain’s highest court of appeal, in practice the two functions have been entirely separate since the mid–19th century. Gally would only be allowed to take his case to the Law Lords if it were certified as involving a point of law of general interest, of course.
This and not the Mona Lisa’s … was the head on which all the sorrows of the world had fallen. (Ch.1; page 29) *
The Victorian-era art critic Walter Pater, in his 1873 The Renaissance, wrote of the Mona Lisa:
Hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary.
Pater gives no citation for his internal quotation; I assume he was quoting I Corinthians 10:11 (KJV), in which the apostle Paul speaks of the example of some Old Testament stories “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” “Ends” here is a different word from the one used in the phrase “the ends of the earth” (in the geographic sense). This one means “result, fulfillment, outcome”. “Whom” here refers to “us”—himself and his readers—so in essence he’s saying that the present generation is living with the consequences of the outworking of history, and we need to learn from it so as not to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.
Pater goes on to contrast the Mona Lisa with “one of those white Greek goddesses of antiquity”. If I understand Pater correctly, he’s saying that the Mona Lisa depicts something different from the abstract untroubled beauty of the classical figure; she’s knowing, worldly-wise, historically aware.
I’m not sure how “ends” in Pater’s quote got transmuted into “sorrows” in the popular paraphrase as used by Wodehouse, but given the history of the world, it’s not too distant a shift in meaning. [NM]
wringing the hands … seldom seen in real life (Ch.1; page 30) *
Florence wrung her hands, a thing I’ve often heard about but never seen done. It’s a sort of circular movement, starting from the wrists.
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954, also as Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, 1955)
scent of wall-flowers (Ch.1; page 31) *
Wall-flowers, of the genus Erysimum, are in the cabbage/mustard family. They thrive in well-drained soil, and do well when taking root in crevices of old walls with loose mortar, hence the common name. Their blossoms are of a wide variety of warm tones, usually with a strong fragrance, and bloom in spring and summer.
unmasking her batteries (Ch.1; page 32) *
Literally, removing anything that might have been covering an emplacement of military guns; figuratively, coming out into the open with a strong position in an argument.
Schoonmaker (Ch.1; page 34) °
“Schoonmaker” is a Dutch word meaning domestic cleaner, but as a name it seems to be mainly limited to the USA, where it is usually said to derive from early Huguenot or Walloon settlers. In Dutch it would be pronounced “S-ch-OWN-maaker” (“ch” as in Scottish “loch”).
[Both the real name and the parody of it on p. 35 as “Doopenhacker” are allusions to the wealthy Dutch families of old New York society. —NM]
fish-slice (Ch.1; page 35) *
The standard wedding gift in Wodehouse’s stories; see Thank You, Jeeves.
playing an unexpected return date … rôle (Ch.1; page 35) *
Theatrical jargon, as if the servants were a touring troupe of actors.
Lady Allardyce (Ch.1; page 36)
Allardyce is a reasonably common Scottish name, originally associated with Forfar. There is an Allardyce Castle at Inverbevie in Kincardinshire.
blue-bag treatment (Ch.1; page 38)
Reckitt’s Blue, a laundry whitener, was first produced by Isaac Reckitt & Sons (now Reckitt and Colman) in Hull in 1852. It consisted of a synthetic ultramarine dye and sodium bicarbonate. Pressing a blue-bag against the wound was a common pain-relief treatment for wasp stings. Baking soda or dilute ammonia solution would have the same effect.
a spanner had been bunged (Ch.1; page 38) *
See Leave It to Psmith.
play on him as on a stringed instrument (Ch.1; page 39) *
St. Anthony (Ch.1; page 39)
St. Anthony Abbott was an Egyptian hermit of the 3rd century CE. He is supposed to have resisted every possible temptation of the devil while living in the desert. For obvious reasons, his temptation has always been a popular subject in art.
vamp (Ch.1; page 40) °
A woman who entraps men. The OED records the first use in print in this sense as being by G. K. Chesterton in 1911, so presumably it was already a current slang expression in Wodehouse’s youth.
[Either in its short form, or in full as “vampire,” it was popularized in a genre of silent cinema in the late 1910s starring such actresses as Theda Bara and Louise Glaum. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Vampire” was written in 1897 as publicity for his cousin Philip Burne-Jones’s painting of the same name; its opening phrase “A fool there was” was used as the title of a 1915 Theda Bara film which helped establish the genre. Google’s Ngram Viewer will dispay a chart of the usage of vamp showing a spike in its frequency in print beginning in the 1910s and dropping off in the 1930s. Usage, at least in print, during Wodehouse’s youth was minimal, and the word has other meanings including a portion of a shoe. —NM]
sex-appeal (Ch.1; page 40)
First appeared in 1924, according to the OED.
Banzai! (Ch.1; page 41)
(Japanese: literally means “ten thousand years”)
A traditional Japanese cry of rejoicing. Seems to have entered English during the Japanese craze of the 1890s, although oddly enough the word does not feature in the libretto of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Took on more militaristic implications during the Second World War.
this was the stuff to give ’em (Ch.1; page 41) *
Presumably an alteration of “the stuff to give the troops”; see The Inimitable Jeeves.
Chapter 2 (Ch.2; page 42)
The Course of True Love
Runs from pp. 42 to 67 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Lysander.Ay me! for aught that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood,
Hermia.O cross! too high to be enthrall’d to low.
Lysander.Or else misgraffed in respect of years,
Hermia.O spite! too old to be engag’d to young.
Lysander.Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,
Hermia.O hell! to choose love by another’s eye.
Lysander.Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it [...].
Mason and Saxby (Ch.2; page 42)
Mr. Mason’s partner does not appear, but perhaps we could speculate that it is the notoriously batty literary agent Howard Saxby Sr. who later appears in Cocktail Time and Ice in the Bedroom?
Shaftesbury Avenue ... Regal Theatre (Ch.2; page 42)
Norman Murphy identifies the Regal as the Shaftesbury (formerly Prince’s) Theatre at the top (Holborn) end of Shaftesbury Avenue. The Regal and Mac the stage-door keeper also appear in A Damsel in Distress (1919) and Bachelors Anonymous (1973).
wedge-shaped depression (Ch.2; page 42) *
Wodehouse usually refers to this meteorological phenomenon as a V-shaped depression. The “By the Way” column in the Globe, September 19, 1898 (about three years before Wodehouse first contributed to the column), had this item:
According to the meteorologists the hot weather has “probably had its back broken by a V-shaped depression which passed over the country yesterday.” We did not love the heat wave, but we hope the operation was not so painful as it sounds.
Flaming July (Ch.2; page 42) *
Although Thomas Carlyle, in his 1868 Frederick the Great, had written of a flaming July sun, the phrase does not begin to show up in British journalism until 1904, first as an adjective phrase, then by 1912 capitalized as a noun phrase as here. Presumably Wodehouse was recalling the summer of 1928 as he wrote this book. “The recent flaming July set everyone longing to go on pilgrimage, and so by rail, road, sea, or air all who could went a-journeying. . .” (Midland Daily Telegraph, August 10, 1928) Met Office records for Oxford show a maximum of 23.3°C (74°F) in July 1928, a few degrees above the average 21.7°C / 71°F for the Julys of the decade of the 1920s.
ice tinkling in a jug of beer (Ch.2; page 43)
The idea of putting ice into beer suggests that Mason may have lived in the US. Beer in jugs is not necessarily American, though – in Wodehouse’s childhood days, before bottled beer became common, it would have been usual for households too small to have a barrel in the cellar to buy beer for home consumption by the jug from a nearby pub.
lying on his spine (Ch.2; page 44) *
The young men (and women!) of Wodehouse’s generation were trained to sit up straight and have good posture at all times; one of the ways that Wodehouse characterizes the languid young “dudes” of the following generation is to emphasize their style of lounging as a contrast.
To Algie, resting on his spine in the drawing-room chair, it seemed that there was something in Chester’s manner which he did not quite like, a sort of suppressed elation.
“The Fatal Kink in Algernon” (1916)
Surveying Freddie, as he droops on his spine in the yielding leather, one is conscious of one’s limitations as a writer. Gloom like his calls for the pen of a master.
The Little Warrior, VIII (1920)
Otis’s thoughts were far away once more. He was lying on his spine, brooding, brooding.
The Little Warrior, XIX (1920)
The Prattler (Ch.2; page 44)
Presumably a not-so-veiled reference to the Tatler, a gossipy periodical founded by Steele and Addison in 1709, and still in existence (it now belongs to Condé Nast).
do right by our Nell (Ch.2; page 45) °
This seems to have become a proverbial expression fairly recently, but its origins aren’t obvious. [See the earlier version of these notes for proposed 1922 and 1930 referents.] A short silent “Mutt and Jeff” animated film of 1919 was titled “He Ain’t Done Right by Our Nell”; the title suggests that the phrase was already well known. One account links it to Edward Sheldon’s 1908 Broadway melodrama Salvation Nell, but the phrase has not yet been located in the published version.
Little Nell in Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop is never referred to as “our Nell.” The Cole Porter song “They ain’t done right by our Nell” is from Panama Hattie (1940), after the publication of Summer Lightning.
Sally Field (Ch.2; page 45)
This sounds as though it ought to be the name of an important character: many of Wodehouse’s best heroines are called Sally. Perhaps Wodehouse was put off from using it again by the resemblance to “Valley Fields,” his name for Dulwich in many stories.
The real American actress Sally Field, who has appeared in many films and TV shows since the mid-1960s, was of course only born in 1946.
second juvenile … two second juveniles (Ch.2; page 46) *
See A Damsel in Distress for the stage term.
Other instances in Wodehouse of “one being enough for two” include:
“I should say there was about twice as much of Bellwood as there ought to be.”
…the gods had heard her prayer. They had given her back Geoffrey, and with a careless generosity they had given her twice as much of him as she had expected.
A Damsel in Distress, ch. 26 (1919)
In the first place, there was enough of the financier to make two financiers.
“The Smile That Wins” (1931)
This Voules was a bird built rather on the lines of the Albert Hall, round in the middle and not much above. He always looked to me as if Nature had really intended to make two police sergeants and had forgotten to split them up.
Thank You, Jeeves, ch. 8 (1934)
“This animal [Queen of Matchingham] would make two of Pride of Matchingham.”
Pigs Have Wings (1952)
George, sixth Viscount Uffenham, was a man built on generous lines. It was as though Nature had originally intended to make two viscounts, but had decided halfway through to use all the material at one go, and get the thing over with.
Something Fishy, ch. 3 (1956)
Swedish exercises (Ch.2; page 46) *
See Right Ho, Jeeves.
up the river (Ch.2; page 46)
There are many delightful spots for tea on the Thames upstream from London (Maidenhead, Windsor, Henley, Sonning...). In the 1930s one presumably still had a reasonable hope of getting there from central London by car in the space of an afternoon...
Blackpool (Ch.2; page 47)
Seaside resort in Lancashire. Before the age of cheap foreign travel, it was the favoured holiday destination of workers from the industrial towns around Manchester, and hence a good prospect for theatre companies in the summer months.
pop round the corner (Ch.2; page 47)
i.e., go to the pub for a beer.
liked smiling faces about him (Ch.2; page 48) *
What I mean to say, he wanted smiling faces about him, so to speak, and it looked to him as if everybody in the place were cutting up their wives and hiding them in sacks in the Jersey marshes or else putting detectives on to them to secure the necessary evidence.
It isn’t often that I score off Jeeves in the devastating fashion just described, and when I do I like to see happy, smiling faces about me.
Right Ho, Jeeves, ch. 9 (1934)
Feeling himself like a schoolboy going home for Christmas, he wanted happy, smiling faces about him.
Uncle Fred in the Springtime, ch. 8 (1939)
On the occasions of his intermittent visits to Blandings Castle, the mental attitude of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, as has been said, resembled that of a genial monarch pottering about his kingdom after having been away for a number of years battling with the Paynim overseas; and like such a monarch in such circumstances what he wanted was to see smiling faces about him.
Full Moon, ch. 7.2 (1947)
On this morning of mornings he wanted there to be smiling faces about him.
The Old Reliable, ch. 6 (1951)
Tonight of all nights he wanted to see smiling faces about him, and judging from their appearance and behaviour it looked as though, like a famous English king, Joseph Lehman and Jack McClure would never smile again.
Barmy in Wonderland, ch. 14 (1952)
“Cross, is he? I’m sorry to hear that, for this morning I want to have smiling faces about me.”
Something Fishy, ch. 5 (1956)
“Well, I want smiling faces about me.”
Frozen Assets, ch. 5 (1964)
Paddington porters like to see smiling faces about them.
A Pelican at Blandings, ch. 6.1 (1969)
going West (Ch.2; page 48)
The use of “go West” meaning disappear (by analogy to the setting sun) goes back to Chaucer. The special association with death seems to have arisen in the First World War (the first use listed in the OED is from 1915). There doesn’t seem to be any link to the American West.
Napoleon ... Winter Sports at Moscow (Ch.2; page 48)
Napoleon’s attempt to invade Russia in 1812 was defeated as much by the winter weather as by the Russian army. He lost the greater part of the 400,000 men he set out with in the course of the retreat from Moscow.
half-a-dollar (Ch.2; page 48) °
Slang: half-a-crown, i.e. 2/6 (12.5p in decimal currency)
[The crown is a historical coin worth five shillings, one-quarter of a pound sterling; originally in sterling silver, then after 1920 in 50% silver. Due to its size and weight in the pocket, very slightly larger and a bit heavier than a US silver dollar of the era, it was not popular in everyday circulation, and most were minted for commemorative purposes. From about 1880 up to the First World War, the pound exchanged for just under five US dollars, so the colloquial “dollar” for the crown was not very accurate at that time, although by the 1940s a 4:1 ratio was closer to the trading value.
Half-crown coins were commonly minted and circulated. The Bank of England inflation calculator suggests an inflation factor of 62.4 from 1929 to 2018, so Mac’s half-crown would have a value of £7.80 in modern terms. —NM]
thirsty-looking flutes ... violins ... oboe (Ch.2; page 48) °
Mark’s previous note:
Presumably the percussionist and brass section, who are usually in the best position to leave the orchestra pit, went out before the curtain came down, and are already in the bar.
is amusing but inconsistent with the previous sentence naming this as the advance guard of the company.
Flute players do get thirsty, as blowing through pursed lips across the embouchure hole dries out the mouth more than keeping the lips in contact with a reed (as on an oboe or clarinet) or a cup mouthpiece (as on a trumpet or trombone). [NM]
seventeen stone (Ch.2; page 48)
238lb or approximately 108kg
look just like a bridegroom (Ch.2; page 50) *
The implication (as if we didn’t suspect it already) is that Ronnie is correctly dressed in formal morningwear (see Right Ho, Jeeves). Men like Mac would associate this costume with special occasions like weddings, much as we do today, but a gentleman of Ronnie’s class would consider it normal daytime wear when in Town.
bargee (Ch.2; page 51)
As well as the literal meaning of “bargeman,” this term was often used in the 19th and early 20th century as slang for a person lacking in social sophistication. Probably this was due to the unrestrained vocabulary that Thames bargemen would be likely to develop when navigating a heavy barge through busy traffic on a relatively narrow, tidal river. Another possible origin sometimes cited is Eton College—boys rowing for sport would presumably come into conflict with commercial users of the river. This would explain Ronnie’s use of the term: we know he is an Etonian. Elsewhere Wodehouse mostly uses it ironically, e.g. in Pigs Have Wings, where Gally accuses the haughty Lady Constance of “stiffing and blinding like a bargee.”
The air of the river has a demoralizing effect upon one’s temper, and
this it is, I suppose, which causes even bargemen to be sometimes rude to
one another, and to use language which, no doubt, in their calmer moments
[, Three Men in a Boat, ch. 18]
P. Frobisher Pilbeam (Ch.2; page 51) *
As Percy Pilbeam, we have met him before in Bill the Conqueror (1924) and Sam the Sudden (1925) as a gossipy journalist working on Society Spice for Lord Tilbury (originally Sir George Pyke). His middle name of Frobisher suggests a higher social class; the only other Frobisher in the canon is Major “Tubby” Frobisher, a friend of Captain Brabazon-Biggar in Ring for Jeeves.
Junior Constitutional Club (Ch.2; page 51) °
The Junior Constitutional was at 101 Piccadilly. It was established in 1887. Pears’ Cyclopedia lists the annual subscription in 1914 as 5 guineas, and the nature of the club as “Conservative.” Wodehouse was a member of the Constitutional Club, in Northumberland Avenue (subscr. 15 guineas). See the notes to the Preface of The Girl on the Boat.
The Monico (Ch.2; page 52)
G & B Monico owned restaurants on Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. The latter seems to have become the Rainbow Club for US servicemen by 1942.
In re (Ch.2; page 52)
Legal Latin: in the matter of.
Lilian Gish (Ch.2; page 53)
Lillian Gish (1897–1993) American actress. One of the first real stars of the silent movies, she appeared in most of D. W. Griffith’s early classics. With her waif-like looks, she specialised in playing vulnerable heroines. By 1929, sound was taking over and her appearances were becoming rare—Wodehouse is showing his age a bit.
His was a mercurial temperament (Ch.2; page 55) *
That is, volatile, quick to change. The OED mentions that the first usages of the term alluded to the god or the planet Mercury, but now the association is with the liquid metal, as with the figurative use of “quicksilver” in the same sense.
dash off to the registrar’s (Ch.2; page 55) *
immemorial elms (Ch.2; page 56) *
See Love Among the Chickens for the poetic source. Before the spread of Dutch elm disease in the mid-twentieth century, the elm was a widely planted tree both for ornamental use in landscapes and for lumber, and many trees reached a great size and age; if a tree had been around longer than anyone could remember, immemorial would be an accurate description.
Pots of money (Ch.2; page 56) *
See Ukridge for a list of other Wodehouse characters who use the phrase.
Dana Gibson (Ch.2; page 56) °
Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944) was America’s most celebrated magazine illustrator, and commanded huge fees for his work. The “Gibson girl” image he developed showed American women as tall, self-confident, and independent.
Austin Seven (Ch.2; page 56)
The first really successful small car in Britain. Made in many different versions from 1922 until the war. The A7’s American counterpart was the Bantam.
Be her station never so humble... (Ch.2; page 57) °
This doesn’t seem to be a quotation, but it sounds like a parody of the style of romantic fiction or melodrama.
[Wodehouse puts a similar phrase into Rosie M. Banks’s Only a Factory Girl: “Be her origin ne'er so humble, a good woman is the equal of the finest lady on earth!” — a maxim which convinces Bingo’s uncle Mortimer Little (later Lord Bittlesham) to marry his own cook in “Jeeves in the Springtime” (1921). —NM]
a Serio (Ch.2; page 57)
Short for “Serio-comic,” that is, a performer who presents comic material in a serious guise. The term was current in the 1890s (the citation in the OED is from the Yellow Book).
Cotterleigh (Ch.2; page 58)
The origins of this name are mysterious. There don’t seem to be any examples with this spelling. “Cotterley” (a type of tea) and “Cotterly” (as a surname) both occur occasionally.
Irish Guards (Ch.2; page 58)
This regiment of the British army was established in 1900 by order of Queen Victoria, in recognition of the bravery of Irish soldiers in the South African conflict. It sounds as though Sue’s father was rather younger than Gally, who seems to have been born around or before 1870. This would explain how Cotterleigh came to be in London to court Dolly when he could have been fighting the Boers (we don’t know for sure that Gally was involved in the war, but it seems likely, and Murphy suggests in the Reminiscences that he was in the irregular cavalry for part of his time in South Africa).
jellied eels (Ch.2; page 58) *
formed a wedge (Ch.2; page 59)
The flying wedge is a formation often adopted by police charging to break up demonstrations. It used to be used in Rugby football. The image is of course delightfully incongruous when referring to aunts.
at Blandings a hundred miles away from you (Ch.2; page 59) *
A slight understatement; Shropshire’s market town Shifnal is over a hundred and twenty miles as the crow flies from London’s theatre district.
Mad about gardening … wrapped up in his pig (Ch.2; page 59) *
“The Custody of the Pumpkin” (1924) tells us of Lord Emsworth’s love of gardens; in “Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!” (1927) we meet his prize Berkshire sow Empress of Blandings. These stories had come out in magazines but had not yet appeared in book form when the current novel was written; they were collected in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935).
Swiss Cottage (Ch.2; page 61)
A district on the northern fringes of London, now part of the borough of Camden.
Ritz ... Carlton (Ch.2; page 61) °
Two of London’s most splendid hotels at the time. Both were run by Auguste Escoffier and César Ritz.
The Carlton Hotel was opened by in 1899. It stood at the foot of the Haymarket, next to Beerbohm Tree’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. According to legend, the young Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchens there for a while in 1914. The building was damaged by German bombing in 1940 and ceased hotel operations. New Zealand House now occupies the site.
The Ritz, on Piccadilly overlooking Green Park, is of course still in existence.
Norfolk Street would have been—more-or-less—on the way from Swiss Cottage to the Carlton.
To your home? (Ch.2; page 62)
If Norfolk Street is Ronnie’s home, especially if he lived there in childhood, this argues against Murphy’s theory that it is Lord Emsworth’s town house. More likely it belonged to the late Major-General Sir Miles Fish.
Claridge’s (Ch.2; page 62) °
Claridge’s Hotel in Mayfair was run by Richard D’Oyly Carte, proprietor of the original Gilbert & Sullivan productions at the Savoy Theatre and of the Savoy Hotel (employing Ritz and Escoffier before they started the Ritz Hotel). He took Claridge’s over from its original owners in 1893 and refurbished it in the grandest of styles. It has remained in the same building (slightly extended) to the present day.
Apollyon (Ch.2; page 64) °
The Angel of the Bottomless Pit (Book of Revelation), with whom Christian has to fight in Pilgrim’s Progress. Click here to open a 1728 illustration by John Sturt (opens in new tab or window).
Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this
Prince; I hate his Person, his Laws, and People; I am come out on purpose
to withstand thee.
Apollyon, beware what you do, for I am in the King’s High-way, the way of Holiness, therefore take heed to yourself.
Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said, I am void of fear in this matter, prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal Den, that thou shalt go no further; here will I spill thy soul.
And with that he threw a flaming Dart at his breast, but Christian had a Shield in his hand, with which he caught it, and so prevented the danger of that.
Then did Christian draw, for he saw ’twas time to bestir him: and Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing Darts as thick as Hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot: This made Christian give a little back; Apollyon therefore followed his work amain, and Christian again took courage, and resisted as manfully as he could. This sore Combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent; for you must know that Christian, by reason of his wounds, must needs grow weaker and weaker.
Then Apollyon espying his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall; and with that Christian’s Sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, I am sure of thee now: and with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life: but as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his Sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoice not against me, O mine Enemy! when I fall I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound: Christian, perceiving that, made at him again, saying, Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors through him that loved us. And with that Apollyon spread forth his Dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian for a season saw him no more.
[Bunyan, John (1628–1688) Pilgrim’s Progress I: 307-312]
tangled web (Ch.2; page 66)
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
[(1771–1832), Marmion VI:17]
a post-office … send that wire (Ch.2; page 67) *
Although telegraph operations in Britain began as private enterprises, the UK Telegraph Acts of 1868 and 1869 allowed the British Postmaster-General to buy these companies out and maintain a government monopoly on telegraph service.
I’ll have a jolly good prod (Ch.2; page 67) *
Wodehouse generally uses the noun form of prod with the verb give or receive, meaning an actual poke or jab. To “have a prod” is not found in print searches of the era; I assume that the meaning is much the same as “I’ll take a jolly good stab at it.” [NM]
biting Uncle Clarence’s ear (Ch.2; page 67) *
See Leave It to Psmith.
Chapter 3 (Ch.3; page 68)
Sensational theft of a pig
Runs from pp. 68 to 97 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Calverley’s Ode to Tobacco (Ch.3; page 68) °
Charles Stuart Calverley (1831–1884). The text of his ode, written when he was at Christ’s College, can still be seen on the outside wall of what was from 1810 to 1984 Bacon’s, the celebrated Cambridge tobacconist.
Thou who, when fears attack,
Bid’st them avaunt, and Black
Care, at the horseman’s back
Sweet when the morn is gray;
Sweet, when they ’ve cleared away
Lunch; and at close of day
I have a liking old
For thee, though manifold
Stories, I know, are told,
Not to thy credit;
How one (or two at most)
Drops make a cat a ghost—
Useless, except to roast—
Doctors have said it:
How they who use fusees
All grow by slow degrees
Brainless as chimpanzees,
Meagre as lizards;
Go mad, and beat their wives;
Plunge (after shocking lives)
Razors and carving-knives
Into their gizzards.
Confound such knavish tricks!
Yet know I five or six
Smokers who freely mix
Still with their neighbors;
Jones—(who, I ’m glad to say,
Asked leave of Mrs. J.)—
Daily absorbs a clay
After his labors.
Cats may have had their goose
Cooked by tobacco-juice;
Still why deny its use
We ’re not as tabbies are:
Smith, take a fresh cigar!
Jones, the tobacco-jar!
Here ’s to thee, Bacon!
[(1831–1884): Ode to Tobacco ]
handing the mitten (Ch.3; p. 69) *
See Carry On, Jeeves!.
roses, roses all the way (Ch.3; p. 69) *
From the first line of “The Patriot” by Robert Browning.
stock in bad shape … sagging of the market … Fish Preferred … quoted … thirty to thirty-five (Ch.3; p. 69) *
Stock investing was of course a timely topic for metaphor during the boom years of the 1920s, and as mentioned in the introduction to this page, Wodehouse uses stock market quotation as a stand-in for Ronnie’s fluctuating prestige among his family, as if quoting the preferred stock of a company called Fish. (The US edition of the novel was even titled Fish Preferred; it was published on July 1, 1929.) This portion of the story appeared in magazine serializations in April 1929, months before the New York stock market crash of October 1929 or the London Exchange crash in September, so the reference here is not to the securities market in general. We may speculate that the quotation in the low thirties was relative to a par value (face value, initial offering price) of $100/share, but this is a conjecture based on other Wodehouse uses of “par” in non-golfing contexts.
caravan (Ch.3; p. 69) *
A carriage, wagon, or vehicle covered over and fitted up as a living space on wheels; an early equivalent of a travel trailer or recreational vehicle.
that row a couple of years ago (Ch.3; p. 70) *
See Leave It to Psmith (1923), especially the flower-pot incident (appearing in this episode of the serial).
“Baxter!” ... “Ah, Fish!” (Ch.3; page 70) °
As Ronnie was first introduced in Money for Nothing (1928), he has never met Baxter on the printed page before. But, of course, it is more than likely that the two would have met at some point during Baxter’s tenure at the Castle.
present with a camera (Ch.3; page 70) *
Wodehouse complained frequently about the indignities of submitting to professional photographers (e.g. “On Being Photographed,” 1916), and once made a professional photographer, Clarence Mulliner, the hero of a story (“The Romance of a Bulb-Squeezer,” 1928), but not many of his characters are amateur shutterbugs, as Ronnie apparently is here. The supposed oculist Dr. Shaw discusses cameras with Kid Brady in “How Kid Brady Fought for His Eyes” (1906). Freddie Rooke as a boy took a snapshot of Jill Mariner as a girl with her terrier Pat, recalled in The Little Warrior (1920). Lord Emsworth’s grandson George has a movie camera in Service With a Smile (1961). Most enthusiastic and best-equipped seems to be L. P. Runkle in Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971), with an expensive camera he greatly enjoys using.
his late secretary (Ch.3; page 70) *
Late is accurate in the sense of former rather than deceased, of course, but Lord Emsworth suspects the other interpretation, as mentioned in the following paragraphs.
Ancient Mariner (Ch.3; page 73) °
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?”
[The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I:1-4](1772–1834):
If Rupert Baxter had been a different type of man and Lady Constance Keeble a different type of woman (Ch.3; page 74) *
Some commentators have speculated that the obvious closeness between Lady Constance and Mr. Baxter might indicate a romantic relationship beyond their evident common interests and goals, but this passage seems to quash that idea.
return to the Land (Ch.3; page 77) °
This is usually thought of as a Zionist slogan nowadays, but similar sentiments have been associated with political movements of all shades of opinion over the centuries. Perhaps Lord Emsworth has been reading William Morris?
[Alternative possibilities: The Return to the Land (1907) by Jules Méline, a French senator and former minister of agriculture; books by Bolton Hall including Three Acres and Liberty (1907) and A Little Land and a Living (1908); just a few among many expressions of a point of view that the mass of people would be better off and more self-sufficient in small-scale agriculture rather than as cogs in an industrial economy. —NM]
Cox’s Bank (Ch.3; page 77) *
A real-life bank, before 1922 at 16 Charing Cross Road, London S.W.; founded in the eighteenth century as a financial and supply agent to army regiments, later merged with other banking companies. Bought out by Lloyds Bank in 1923. Mentioned by Dr. Watson in “The Problem of Thor Bridge” as the repository of a tin dispatch box containing records of other cases of Sherlock Holmes.
mug’s game (Ch.3; page 78) *
See Leave It to Psmith.
washout (Ch.3; page 78) *
blinking the fact (Ch.3; page 79) *
closing one’s eyes to it; ignoring it
bottled (Ch.3; page 82) *
Slang for drunk; first cited from 1922 in OED.
George Cyril Wellbeloved (Ch.3; page 82)
First appeared in “Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey” (1927); the incident of Parsloe luring him away is described in “Company for Gertrude” (1928).
made the iron enter into his soul (Ch.3; page 82) *
nobble (Ch.3; page 82) *
See Heavy Weather.
the Black Footman in Gossiter Street (Ch.3; page 83)
Gossiter Street seems to have disappeared, if it ever existed. The closest name could be Gossett Street in Bethnal Green in the East End. But perhaps Goslett Yard in Soho might be a better bet. If the pub is called “the Black Footman,” then it would be likely to be in a part of London where it would be frequented by servants from houses grand enough to have employed black flunkeys.
Needless to say there seems to be no London pub of that name today.
a hundred pounds a side (Ch.3; page 83) *
To the modern reader this may not at first seem an outlandish sum, but it accurately reflects the fact that many young aristocrats wagered incredible amounts of money on trivial matters in that era. One cannot date “the old days” precisely here, but between 1880 and 1910 money values were fairly stable, and a pound during that era would be equivalent to roughly 120 pounds today within a narrow margin of error. So we should read that wager as £12,000 in modern terms. To put it another way, Wodehouse’s annual salary in 1902 as a bank clerk was only eighty pounds, so Gally and young Parsloe were wagering more than a white-collar worker’s annual income on a couple of dogs fighting rats in a pub. The eighth Earl (Clarence and Galahad’s father) must have been providing Gally a liberal allowance.
a Soho chophouse (Ch.3; page 83)
Soho is (broadly-speaking) the district of central London bounded by Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street and Regent Street. Like Greenwich Village in New York it used to be a bohemian quarter full of cheap bars and restaurants, but it has become fashionable and expensive in the late 20th century.
Chophouse is an 18th-century word for an eating house providing a limited, basic menu of chops, steaks, etc. Recently it has started to appear in the names of overpriced fashionable restaurants, in a sort of inverted snobbery.
Wivenhoe’s pig (Ch.3; page 84) *
This is the first mention of this exploit; the story gets more details as it is repeated in Heavy Weather, Full Moon, Pigs Have Wings, and Galahad at Blandings.
Bachelors’ Ball (Ch.3; page 84)
This was probably a ball given by the Bachelors’ Club, which had its premises at Hamilton Place and Piccadilly. Murphy lists it as one of the prototypes for the Drones. Freddie Threepwood became a member later on (see Leave It to Psmith).
[: In Search of Blandings (1986), 74ff]
Hammer’s Easton (Ch.3; page 84)
Seems to be fictitious, although both “Hammer” (a pond) and “Easton” are common placename elements in England. “Easton Hammers” would be more likely, but doesn’t appear to exist either. Apostrophes in placenames are usually recent additions to the spelling, so their placing doesn’t often convey any useful information.
A little child could have led it (Ch.3; page 84) *
Echoes the description of the “peaceable kingdom” in Isaiah 11:6:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
gamekeeper’s cottage in the west wood (Ch.3; page 85)
This cottage played an important role in Leave It to Psmith as the place where the jewels were stashed and the dénoument scene between Psmith, Eve, and Freddie takes place. As the Mixer (Ian Michaud) points out, it is odd that Ronnie, as a mere nephew brought up in London, thinks of this cottage at once, while his cousin Freddie, who spent his childhood playing on the estate, doesn’t even know it exists.
Pigs, and How To Make Them Pay (Ch.3; page 86) °
Probably Pigs: How to Make Them Pay. A handbook for the Pig-breeder, Smallholder and the Cottager. Illustrated by photographs and drawings published by C. Arthur Pearson, London, 1913.
the Daily Mail (Ch.3; page 86)
The Daily Mail was established in 1896 by Alfred Harmsworth (1865–1922). The Mail was Britain’s first American-style lowbrow popular newspaper. It was famous for its outspoken criticism of government, especially during the first world war.
Harmsworth became Lord Northcliffe in 1904, and may well have been the original for Wodehouse’s Lord Tilbury (see below).
Morning Post (Ch.3; page 87) °
See Right Ho, Jeeves.
super-normal pinkness (Ch.3; page 87) *
For Ronnie, who even at normal times is “Too pink. Much too pink” as he describes himself in chapter 2, section 2, this state of pinkitude must have been alarming indeed to Beach.
whangee (Ch.3; page 88)
Whangee is an English term, current in the late 18th century, deriving from huang, the Chinese word for the type of bamboo used for making walking sticks.
snips (Ch.3; page 88) *Here, reliable tips on racehorses. OED defines snip generally as something easily won, a sure thing, and cites an instance from an 1890 slang dictionary, as well as a Wodehouse quote from Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954):
Wooster…is the deadest of snips. He throws a beautiful dart.
Blackbird … Manchester November Handicap (Ch.3; page 88)
Manchester’s racecourse (which was actually in the neighbouring city of Salford) closed in the 1960s, and what was the Manchester November Handicap is nowadays held at Doncaster.
The only notable racehorse called Blackbird I could find seems to have been born around 1850, so Ronnie’s tip may have been a bit out of date.
each helping each (Ch.3; page 89) *Friedrich Schiller’s “culture-historic” poem of 1795 “Der Spaziergang” (“The Walk” in the 1844 English translation by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton) was widely quoted throughout the succeeding decades in popular literature, so is at least a plausible source of the phrase:
United thus—each helping each,
Brisk work the countless hands for ever;
For nought its power to Strength can teach,
Like Emulation and Endeavour!
Thus link’d the master with the man,
Each in his rights can each revere,
And while they march in freedom’s van,
Scorn the lewd rout that dogs the rear!
Wodehouse had clearly absorbed the phrase, whatever its source.
Each helping each, was the way Sir Buckstone looked at it.
Summer Moonshine (1937), ch. 22
And until recently such a sympathy had existed between Porky Jupp and Plug Bosher in abundant measure, each helping each and working unselfishly together for the good of the show.
“Oofy, Freddie and the Beef Trust” in A Few Quick Ones (1959)
“When you had mumps, I caught them from you, and when I had measles, you caught them from me. Each helping each.”
Jeeves in the Offing/How Right You Are, Jeeves (1960), ch. 9
“I believe in reciprocity. Each helping each.”
The Girl in Blue (1970), ch. 10
registered (Ch.3; page 89) *
See Right Ho, Jeeves.
S.O.S.’s (Ch.3; page 89) *
SOS is the International Morse Code telegraphic signal for distress or emergency. The letters are not an acronym for anything and indeed are transmitted without a space between the letters, so they are properly printed without periods between the letters, and formally should be overlined as SOS to emphasize the continuous nature of the code. The US book Fish Preferred at least omitted the periods, although spaces were used between the letters.
Baby Bones … Medbury Selling Plate (Ch.3; page 89) *
Beach has already gotten this tip from Ronnie via Hugo Carmody, in the first chapter.
Creole Queen for the Lincolnshire (Ch.3; page 90)
The Lincolnshire Handicap, run in March, marks the start of the flat racing season. Since the closure of Lincoln racecourse, it has also been run at Doncaster. Creole Queen seems to be fictitious, althought there is currently a horse of that name racing in the US.
Mazzawattee ... Jubilee Stakes (Ch.3; page 91)
There doesn’t seem to have been a race in England called “the Jubilee Stakes” although in 2002 one of the races at Ascot was renamed “Golden Jubilee Stakes.”
Possibly this might be the Jubilee Handicap at Kempton Park?
Mazzawattee was the brand name of a celebrated tea manufacturer.
Goodwood (Ch.3; page 91) °
Horse races have been held on the Duke of Richmond’s estate on the Sussex Downs since 1802. The Goodwood Cup takes place at the beginning of August, and is one of the classic summer events for the fashionable world. (cf. “Bingo Has a Bad Goodwood”, ch. 12 of The Inimitable Jeeves, originally part of the magazine story “Comrade Bingo” from 1922)
All butlers are sportsmen (Ch.3; page 91) *
This proposition cannot be proved universally correct from the information we have on Wodehouse’s butlers, but certainly there is supporting evidence. The Keggs of “The Matrimonial Sweepstakes” and the Keggs of A Damsel in Distress (who may, indeed, be the same man) organize a below-stairs sweepstake on who will become engaged to the daughter of the house. Another Keggs, butler to the Bannisters and the Winfields in The Coming of Bill, is fond of betting on sporting events. Sir Gregory Parsloe’s butler Binstead offers to bet on his employer’s pig in Pigs Have Wings (1953). Aunt Julia Ukridge’s butler Oakshott steals Ukridge’s idea to turn The Cedars temporarily into a gambling den in “Success Story” (1948). Mervyn Spink, butler to Lord Shortlands in Spring Fever (1948), is a habitual but unsuccessful gambler. Brookfield, butler to Rev. Francis Heppenstall, is not above passing along inside information on the Great Sermon Handicap to his friend Jeeves. And of course Jeeves, while acting as butler to Lord Rowcester/Towcester in Ring for Jeeves/The Return of Jeeves (1953/54), also serves as clerk when his employer is working as a bookie.
a green-baize cloth (Ch.3; page 91) *
See Right Ho, Jeeves.
Ronnie was … an inanimate mass till … his early cup of tea (Ch.3; page 92) *
his toilet was interrupted (Ch.3; page 92) *
Not the current sense of the word! See Right Ho, Jeeves.
its bed had not been slept in (Ch.3; page 93) *
Echoes of Sherlock Holmes here; in “The Musgrave Ritual” Brunton’s bed had not been slept in; in The Sign of Four Bartholomew Sholto’s bed had not been slept in; in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” Jonas Oldacre’s bed had not been slept in.
Out of evil cometh good (Ch.3; page 93) °
This proverbial expression sounds as though it ought to be in the Bible, but of course it isn’t, although there are similar paradoxes in the Old Testament, for example Judges 14:14, as David Rosenbaum suggests.
14 And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the
strong (bitter) came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days
expound the riddle.
[Bible Judges 14:14]
Wodehouse uses this expression frequently:
But next day, to show his relief, Bob took me out and used some of father’s cheque in buying me the loveliest white “feathery” on earth; showing that out of evil cometh good, as our curate at home says.
“Petticoat Influence” (1906)
A very evil man is Tom Blake. Yet out of evil cometh good, and it was Tom Blake, who, indirectly, stopped the boxing lessons.
Not George Washington (1907), ch. 17
He knew he could get the money when he pleased. It showed, he reflected, philosophically, how out of evil cometh good.
A Gentleman of Leisure/The Intrusion of Jimmy (1910), ch. 20
“However, out of evil cometh good, and I have been able to get him—her, I mean—for you.”
“The Fatal Kink in Algernon” (1916)
“Oh, well,” he continued, rising and going to the humidor, “there’s plenty more where that came from. Out of evil cometh good,” said Parker philosophically.
The Little Warrior (1920), ch. 2 §1
He now began to tell himself that out of evil cometh good.
“Strange Experiences of an Artist’s Model” (1921), also in Indiscretions of Archie, Ch. 5.
If you had asked him, he would have said that he had acted for the best, and that out of evil cometh good, or some sickening thing like that.
The Girl on the Boat (1922), ch. 13
And he got his Ph.D., showing that out of evil cometh good, and that has cheered him up quite a lot, but I must confess that I find the reasoning of his thesis shaky.
“Life among the Armadillos” in America, I Like You (1956)
It’s odd how often you find that out of evil cometh good, as the expression is.
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963), ch. 8
It’s an ill wind that has no turning (Ch.3; page 93)
Hugo is confusing two expressions: “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good” and “It’s a long road that has no turning.”
Both are proverbial, with no identifiable source.
I’ve got fidgety feet (Ch.3; page 94) *
The opening words of Ira Gershwin’s lyric for the refrain of the song “Fidgety Feet” from the musical Oh, Kay! (1926), music by George Gershwin, book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse.
Eugene Aram (Ch.3; page 94) °
The English philologist Eugene Aram (1704–59) was a self-taught expert on the Celtic languages. Before he could complete his Anglo-Celtic dictionary, he was tried and executed for the murder of his friend Daniel Clarke. As well as Thomas Hood’s poem, which Bertie attempts to quote, there is a novel by Bulwer Lytton on the subject. Hood’s poem was effectively sabotaged by Lewis Carroll’s parody “The walrus and the carpenter.”
Like sportive deer they cours’d about,
And shouted as they ran,—
Turning to mirth all things of earth,
As only boyhood can;
But the Usher sat remote from all,
A melancholy man!
His hat was off, his vest apart,
To catch heaven’s blessed breeze;
For a burning thought was in his brow,
And his bosom ill at ease:
So he lean’d his head on his hands, and read
The book between his knees!
[Thomas Hood The Dream of Eugene Aram 13–24]
a wild night on the moors (Ch.3; page 95)
A splendidly elliptical way of referring to a session of heavy drinking! Probably it was inspired by the sub-Wuthering Heights school of romantic fiction.
When something something something brow, a ministering angel thou! (Ch.3; page 95) *
Ronnie’s memory for poetry seems to rival Bertie Wooster’s. See Sam the Sudden for the complete stanza from Sir Walter Scott.
he could be in London before eight (Ch.3; page 97) *
The luncheon-gong rings after the stable clock strikes one, so Ronnie could hardly set out before three in the afternoon. Even on modern motorways, the driving distance to London from Shropshire is on the order of a hundred and fifty miles, so Ronnie expects to average over thirty miles per hour, a rapid trip under the driving conditions of the time.
Chapter 4 (Ch.4; page 98)
Noticeable Behaviour of Ronald Fish
Runs from pp. 98 to 124 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Beeston Street ... Hayling Court (Ch.4; page 98) °
There is no Beeston Street, and doesn’t ever seem to have been, but there is a Beeston Place in “the south-western postal division” (now SW1), a continuation of Ebury St between Victoria Station and the Royal Mews.
The description of Hayling Court, which also seems to be a fictitious name, sounds remarkably like that of Halsey Court, which appears in Money in the Bank and a few other later books. Murphy identifies this as Hay’s Mews, off Berkeley Square—unfortunately the Wodehouse connection with Hay’s Mews was not established until 1939, so it is probably coincidence!
[Or probably not. Note that Ian Hay, Wodehouse’s theatrical collaborator [e.g. the play of A Damsel in Distress, 1928] lived at 47 Charles Street, immediately opposite Hay’s Mews, so Wodehouse would have known the neighborhood even before taking a mews flat there. See Murphy, In Search of Blandings, 197–8. Note too that Ebury Street is where Wodehouse placed Corky’s landlord Bowles in the Ukridge short stories. The name of Hayling Court no doubt reflects Hayling Island near Emsworth; see A Damsel in Distress. —NM]
ARGUS ENQUIRY AGENCY (Ch.4; page 98)
The name Argus (or Argos) in Greek mythology is used either (i) for the hundred-eyed monster that guarded Io after she was turned into a heifer or (ii) for the builder of the Argo, the ship that took Jason and friends on their quest for the Golden Fleece.
From (i), it has come to be a proverbial term for a watchful person, and is thus a good name for a detective agency. However, we should not forget that Wodehouse had a classical education: there is almost certainly a buried joke about guarding farm animals here! Note also that Argos was slain by Hermes. Pilbeam’s antagonist in this case is Gally, very much a Hermes-figure.
Mgr. (Ch.4; page 98)
Pilbeam intends the abbreviation to stand for “Manager,” but Wodehouse’s insistence on it reminds us that it also stands for “Monsignor,” an ambiguity quite in keeping with Pilbeam’s ambitious nature.
gentlemanly office-boy (Ch.4; page 98) °
All office boys are gentlemanly in Wodehouse, of course, but none will ever quite rise to the heights of the immortal Pugsy Maloney in Psmith, Journalist and the American editions of The Prince and Betty.
There must be at least a suspicion that the profession of office boy survived in Wodehouse long after it had disappeared in the real world, killed off by higher school-leaving ages, more women taking office jobs, and the telephone, although one member of the Blandings group claims to have been employed as an office boy in London in the late 1950s.
The office boy was still being used to advance a Wodehouse plot as late as The Girl in Blue (1970).
bona fide (Ch.4; page 98)
Latin: in good faith, genuine
chafing at the bonds of employment (Ch.4; page 99) °
Wodehouse himself, of course, had given up his job in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in 1902 to become a freelance writer.
Society Spice ... Lord Tilbury (Ch.4; page 99)
Tilbury, though of course fictional, bears some resemblance to Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, who started out with the gossipy weekly Answers to Correspondents, before moving into the newspaper field with the Evening News and Daily Mail.
a Freemason, left-handed... (Ch.4; page 101) °
A reference to Sherlock Holmes’s famous parlour trick, of course. [In “The Red-Headed League,” for instance, Holmes deduces that Jabez Wilson is a Freemason and has been in China; Wilson, however, is right-handed and we learn nothing of his diet.] Hugo may be left-handed and a Freemason, for all we know, but it is highly improbable that he could be a vegetarian without Wodehouse mocking him about it, or that he has had the opportunity to visit Asia.
suffered from adenoids (Ch.4; page 101) *
Adenoids are glands of lymphatic tissue, part of the body’s immune system, located at the back of the roof of the mouth. Like tonsils, they may become infected and inflamed in childhood. If too swollen, they may partially block passage of air through the nose, leading to mouth breathing and a distorted vocal quality, as if the nostrils had been pinched.
And this, if I mistake not, Watson, is our client now (Ch.4; page 102)
Like most of the Sherlock Holmes references in Wodehouse, this one does not have an exact source. The nearest seems to be from “The Problem of Thor Bridge” (The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes).
“And yet, Watson—and yet! This bridge—a single broad span of stone
with balustraded sides—carries the drive over the narrowest part of a long,
deep, reed-girt sheet of water. Thor Mere it is called. In the mouth of the
bridge lay the dead woman. Such are the main facts. But here, if I mistake
not, is our client, considerably before his time.”
[, The Problem of Thor Bridge ]
marcelled (Ch.4; page 102)
The French hairdresser François Marcel Grateau (1852–1936) invented a method of crimping hair into a wavy pattern using heated curling tongs.
asphalte and carbonic gas (Ch.4; page 102)
Asphalte (the spelling used in the Herbert Jenkins edition) was already rather archaic by this time, most twentieth-century spellings dropping the final “-e”. Probably there were not very many streets in central London with asphalt surfaces at this time: stone setts remained fairly common, at least on minor roads, until after the war, and were invariably used alongside tram-tracks.
Carbonic gas (more usually “carbonic acid gas”) is an old name for carbon dioxide, which is of course odourless. Hugo is evidently using the term generically to refer to the many atmospheric pollutants that would have been poisoning the air of the metropolis in those days.
It was a dark and stormy night (Ch.4; page 103)
This most clichéed of all opening lines seems to have been first perpetrated by Bulwer-Lytton.
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
[, Paul Clifford (1830)]http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/
...the Moon was riding serenely in the sky (Ch.4; page 103) °
This is a familiar literary cliché, to the extent that “serene” has come to be the adjective we automatically associate with the Moon: see for instance H. G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance , ch. 24 :
There is a magic quality in moonshine; it touches all that is sweet and beautiful, and the rest of the night is hidden. ... This road that was a mere rutted white dust, hot underfoot, blinding to the eye, is now a soft grey silence, with the glitter of a crystal grain set starlike in its silver here and there. Overhead, riding serenely through the spacious blue, is the mother of the silence, she who has spiritualised the world, alone save for two attendant steady shining stars.
or J. O. P. Bland, Houseboat Days in China  :
The young May moon was riding serenely through shoals of fleecy clouds, and a warm south-westerly breeze driving the Saucy fane gently along to the music of rippling waters.
[Could writers unconsciously be associating serene with Selene, ancient Greek goddess of the moon? This is no more than a conjecture. —NM]
Hawkshaws (Ch.4; page 104) °
Hawkshaw was the name of the detective in the play The Ticket-of-Leave Man (1863) by Tom Taylor (1817–1880). A newspaper cartoon (1913–22 and 1931–52) by Gus Magor revived the character name.
...what you will, even unto half his kingdom (Ch.4; page 104)
21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a
supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
22 and when the daughter of the said Hero′di-as came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
[Bible Mark 6:21-24](A similar expression occurs in Esther 5:3 and 7:2.)
drew the instrument to him and gave a number (Ch.4; page 105) *
Automated telephone exchanges using rotary-dial phones were adopted by the British General Post Office beginning in 1922, but it took well over a decade for them to be fully implemented. The wording here suggests that Hugo spoke a number to an operator, and there is some delay before a connection is made.
village swains … dance upon the green (Ch.4; page 105) *The word swain is archaic in most of its senses as servant or youth, and survives mainly in pastoral poetry as a term for a rural young man in love. An Internet search uncovered an unsigned poem titled “The Approach of May” in a 1784 magazine, whose fourth stanza begins “At eve the village swains are seen / To lead the dance upon the green, / All jocular and gay”; no trace of this poem has been found in later anthologies, so the literary concept must have been in common usage; one doubts that Hugo was a student of obscure ancient periodicals.
blood up … vine leaves more or less in his hair (Ch.4; page 105) *
The OED citations for having one’s blood up refer to being in an angry mood, ready for a fight, rather than what Hugo seems to mean here, being ready for a revel. Vine leaves in the hair are part of the usual depiction of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and revelry. “More or less” is a mere figure of speech, part of the “dude” or “knut” pose of casualness or seeming indifference.
“I mean, if Jeeves is baffled, hope would appear to be more or less dead.”
Joy in the Morning (1946), ch. 22
the lion and the lizard... (Ch.4; page 105)
Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunterthe wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.
I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.
[, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam ]
Mario’s (Ch.4; page 105)
Fictitious—the name suggests Ciro’s in Orange St, off the Haymarket, but on the strength of the balcony (see below) Murphy identifies it as the Café de Paris, which seems to have been one of London’s most fashionable night clubs for much of the twenties and thirties.
[Reminiscences of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood (1993)]
Bashford (Ch.4; page 105) °
Previous editions of Garrison list a second Bashford in Fish Preferred, a porter at the Drones, but this mistake, a misreading of Bashford’s second appearance later in this chapter, is corrected in the forthcoming third edition. Apart from this, the porter in Sue’s building is the only Bashford in the canon. Not counting J. Bashford Braddock of “The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner,” of course.
Bashford seems to be a fairly common name in the US, but less so in Britain. The celebrated San Francisco clothes shop Wilkes Bashford was established in 1966, so is not relevant here.
From the fact that Sue is living in an apartment building with a porter, a rather grand—and up-to-date—mode of life for 1920s London, we can probably assume that she inherited a certain amount from her parents, and is not entirely dependent on her salary.
make a long arm (Ch.4; page 105) *
The OED lists both literal and figurative uses of make a long arm meaning to stretch out, to reach something at a distance, dating back to the sixteenth century. Here, of course, Bashford will have to leave his telephone and knock on Sue’s door, but Hugo asks as if it will be a trifling effort.
Leopold’s (Ch.4; page 106) *
The US book Fish Preferred called the band “Leopard’s” the first two times it was mentioned, but reverted to Leopold’s thereafter; a most unusual misprint.
Gravel soil (Ch.4; page 106) *
Popularly associated with a healthy climate, from long-standing prejudices predating the understanding of microbes and disease. For instance, from a review of an 1829 book on malaria:
A clay soil will be found to be productive of disease, only as it is favorable to standing water; and a sandy and gravel soil to be healthy, only as their loose texture admits of its ready escape.
Company’s own water (Ch.4; page 106) *
See The Girl in Blue.
I thought the machine had conked (Ch.4; page 107) *
Originally cited as konked, sometimes with “out”, from First World War aviator slang referring to a failure of an airplane engine. By 1925, Soldier and Sailor Words called it “also a general expression” for anything that broke down or went dead.
M. for mange, A. for asthma, R. for rheumatism (Ch.4; page 107) *
Hugo’s alphabet is uncharacteristically depressing for such a light-hearted character, and for Wodehouse in general. Monty Bodkin does spell “fakes” with “K for kidney trouble” in Pearls, Girls, and Monty Bodkin (1972) but that is for just one letter; Smallwood Bessemer spells out his last name with “e for erysipelas” in “Tangled Hearts” (1950). More typically, in Big Money (1931), Mr. Frisby and his sister spell out “lumbago” and “better” over the transatlantic telephone without using the names of diseases even in that context.
Market Blandings 32X (Ch.4; page 108)
In some of his earlier books, Wodehouse blithely assumes that telephones in Britain are as ubiquitous as in the US (cf. Carry On, Jeeves!, for example), but he had spent quite some time in England around the time he wrote Summer Lightning, and consequently gives Sue a shared phone in the hall, and Blandings Castle a two-digit phone number. The “X” probably indicates that the castle has a private branch exchange allowing Beach to put calls through to extensions in different rooms. Market Blandings would certainly not have had an automatic telephone exchange—calls would have been put through manually by the postmistress.
Measuring footprints and putting the tips of your fingers together (Ch.4; page 108) *
More allusions to the Sherlock Holmes stories, of course. In five of the twelve stories in the Adventures, for instance, Holmes is described as putting his fingertips together.
Bung-oh (Ch.4; page 108) *Wodehouse uses multiple spellings for this jazzy parting expression, first cited in the OED as “bungo” from 1925. Wodehouse used “bung-ho” in Money for Nothing (1928) and “bung-o” in Heavy Weather (1933), so either he or his editors considered the various versions to be equivalent. The latest usage so far discovered is Freddie Widgeon’s “Bung-ho” in Ice in the Bedroom (1961).
Dancing was just a game (Ch.4; page 109) *
Sue’s thoughts are in agreement with Millicent’s words in chapter 1, section iii: “Well, tennis is a game I defy you to play by yourself.”
And so at long last came a day when Love wound his silken fetters about Hugo Carmody (Ch.4; page 110) *
The style of this quotation mimics the language of silent-movie title cards (see “came the dawn” in the notes to Blandings Castle and Elsewhere). “Silken fetters” dates back at least to 1744 (“the silken fetters of delicious ease” in Mark Akenside, The Pleasures of Imagination) and was soon thereafter used in the sense of romantic bonds, as in Hannah Cowley’s 1775 play The Runaway.
Amalgamated Professors of the Dance (Ch.4; page 111) °
This is one of Wodehouse’s most sustained examples of the technique of having a character talk about something completely irrelevant to build up dramatic tension. It’s interesting to note that he carries off Hugo’s entire diatribe against the fickleness of dancing fashions without once committing himself to the name of a dance fad that might date his story!
[Wodehouse noted news reports of a 1907 meeting of the Imperial Society of Dance Teachers, and wrote a poem titled “Something New” about freshly invented dance steps for the “By the Way” column in the Globe newspaper, 31 July 1907. See By the Way, Day by Day (2015), ed. John Dawson, pp. 102–3.
[Hugo at this point in the novel is quoting directly from Wodehouse’s 1919 Vanity Fair essay “Keeping Up With Terpsichore”, complete with Divot-Shifters, Rubber-Ball Glide, Thoth, and Father Mariana. I cannot recall another such a long passage from a semi-autobiographical casual piece being adapted so closely into the speech of a character in one of his stories. —NM]
when I was trailing clouds of glory (Ch.4; page 112) *
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
, “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (1807)
early Egyptians ... Thoth (Ch.4; page 114)
Thoth was the Egyptian god of learning and wisdom, identified with the Greek Hermes. He is represented with the body of a man and the head of an Ibis. I can’t find a specific reference to him inventing dancing, but he is credited with many other inventions, including writing.
[At this point Mark’s original annotation reads:
Hugo, for reasons best known to himself, must have cobbled this account together from a popular encyclopedia. It doesn’t seem to be from Brewer, though.
[See Amalgamated Professors, two notes above, for the actual source in Wodehouse’s 1919 essay, itself sourced in part from the Encyclopedia Americana.]
Phrygian Corybantes (Ch.4; page 114)
Phrygia was a region of central Asia Minor (now part of Turkey). In the 8th to 6th century BCE it was the centre of the cult of the mother-goddess Cybele, which later spread to Greece. Corybantes and Dactyls were priests of Cybele who worshipped her with wild dancing at the spring festival.
hair in a braid (Ch.4; page 114) *
See The Mating Season for extensive annotations on this reference.
two left feet (Ch.4; page 114) *
Compare Wodehouse’s short story “The Man With Two Left Feet” (1916).
Rhea Silvia (Ch.4; page 114)
In Roman mythology, the Vestal virgin (until she was seduced by Mars) Rhea Silvia was the mother of the twins Romulus and Remus, who were to found the city of Rome. There doesn’t seem to be a specific festival of Rhea Silvia: the Romans honoured the wolf who acted as the twins’ stepmother in the spring festival of Lupercalia, which may be what Hugo was thinking of. One source suggests that Rhea Silvia was associated with the obscure midsummer festival of Lucaria, usually regarded as commemorating the sack of Rome by the Gauls.
Rhea is one of the Greek names for the Phrygian Cybele.
Father Mariana (Ch.4; page 114)
The Jesuit scholar Juan de Mariana (1526–1623), contrary to what Hugo suggests, was a professor at the University of Salamanca (Jesuits would not have been terribly popular in Leipzig in those days, anyway). He is probably better known for his important writings on economics (especially his work on inflation and tax, De Monetae Mutatione, 1603) and political theory than for his attack on the zarabanda (Tratado contra los juegos públicos, 1609).
mangling the wurzel (Ch.4; page 114)
A reference to the mangold-wurzel—a type of beet, grown for cattle food. Hugo obviously thought this sounded a suitably German occupation for a Spaniard.
illuminating vellum (Ch.4; page 114)
Much practiced by medieval monks, but has never been an activity particularly associated with the Society of Jesus.
the saraband (Ch.4; page 114)
A slow Spanish dance in triple time (zarabanda).
fandango (Ch.4; page 114)
A lively Spanish dance in 3/4 time. It is thought to be of Moorish origin. Probably older than the zarabanda, but did not become popular outside Spain much before the 18th century.
pazazas (Ch.4; page 114)
Nonsense word, obviously intended for a currency unit—cf. Peseta (former Spanish currency).
foot-and-mouth diseasers (Ch.4; page 115)
Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious illness affecting farm animals. Hugo is using it as a more colourful variant of “leper,” to mean outcast.
glimmering through the laurels (Ch.4; page 115) °
Alas for her that met me,
That heard me softly call,
Came glimmering thro’ the laurels
At the quiet evenfall,
In the garden by the turrets
Of the old manorial hall.
[(1809–1892): Maud II, 215–220]
Alabaster shells (Ch.4; page 116)
Alabaster is a translucent, white mineral used in sculpture, decoration and—formerly—for lampshades. The name is also used for certain types of seashells, which is probably what Hugo is referring to here.
Lord Emsworth’s chauffeur (Ch.4; page 117) *
Not until Chapter 17 do we find out that his name is Voules.
a blowout near Oxford (Ch.4; page 117)
A flat tyre. Oxford would be roughly halfway from Shropshire to London.
Bashford, the porter (Ch.4; page 118)
(see p. 105 above)—Garrison evidently misread this passage, understanding that Ronnie was at the Drones. In fact he has obviously been ringing Sue’s doorbell, and is descending the stairs from her flat when he meets Bashford.
Othello’s younger brother (Ch.4; page 118)
If the jealous Moor had any siblings, they did not play an important part in Shakespeare’s version of the story.
green-eyed monster (Ch.4; page 118) °
See Shakespeare Quotations and Allusions for the full passage from Othello, act III, scene 3, and Wodehouse’s other allusions to it.
perplexed in the extreme (Ch.4; page 118) *
This one is from Othello, act V, scene 2, the “one that loved not wisely, but too well” speech. See Shakespeare Quotations and Allusions for the full passage from Othello and Wodehouse’s other allusions to it.
brave men ... fair women (Ch.4; page 119)
There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gather’d then
Her beauty and her chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.
A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes look’d love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell.
[(1788–1824): Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage III:21]
“Sensation” (Ch.4; page 121) *
Journalistic and dramatic jargon for an excited response. In reporting a public meeting, courtroom trial, or the like, a transcript of what had been spoken might include the note [Sensation.] to denote an outburst by the crowd present. Similarly, as a stage direction in a play after a significant spoken line, the other actors on stage would be instructed by this word to react audibly and visibly.
cuckoo-in-the-nest (Ch.4; page 122) *
A somewhat odd image for Pilbeam as a male interloper, since it is the female cuckoo who lays an egg in the nest of some other species of bird; see Money in the Bank.
Lothario (Ch.4; page 122) °
A libertine, gay deceiver, rake. Allusive use of the name of one of the characters in Nicholas Rowe’s 1702 stage play The Fair Penitent. The name had previously been used for a somewhat similar character by Sir William Davenant in his play The Cruel Brother (1630).
made of sterner stuff (Ch.4; page 123) *
As Marc Antony recommends ambition to be made, in Julius Caesar. See Shakespeare Quotations and Allusions for the passage from Act III, scene 2, and Wodehouse’s other allusions to it.
omelette aux champignons (Ch.4; page 123) *
French for “mushroom omelet”; some vendors reserve the name champignon for special imported varieties, while other sources suggest that the common white button mushrooms available everywhere fall within the category implied by the name.
commissionaire (Ch.4; page 123) *
In general, a commissionaire’s job is the same as an American “doorman”: someone in uniform to open doors of a hotel, restaurant, etc., and assist patrons as needed. The British term comes from the Corps of Commissionaires, founded in London in 1859 to find jobs for former military personnel as porters, messengers, security guards, and the like.
heavy metal (Ch.4; page 123) *
The meaning is clear from the context, indicating someone strong and unyielding, but searching for other instances of this usage has proved difficult. Once references to loud rock music and to such chemical elements as lead are eliminated, the term is rare, and seems mostly to be used as a catch-all for such military items as large cannons. The OED gives only a single 1882 dictionary citation for this sense, with both literal and figurative usages including “a person of great ability or power”.
McTeague (Ch.4; page 123)
According to Garrison this is the only McTeague in the canon. Presumably Wodehouse got the name from the eponymous hero of Frank Norris’s novel (1899). We can ponder the question of whether it is a step up or a step down from unlicensed dentist to night-club bouncer.
grim face made of some hard kind of wood (Ch.4; page 123) *
Compare the policeman who calls upon Jerry Vail at Sunnybrae in Pigs Have Wings, “who might have been carved out of some durable substance like granite.”
muscles of a village blacksmith (Ch.4; page 123) *
See A Damsel in Distress.
Chapter 5 (Ch.5; page 125)
A ’Phone Call for Hugo
Runs from pp. 125 to 130 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
The Law of Great Britain (Ch.5; page 125)
Wodehouse is using this term loosely: strictly speaking there is no such thing. There are separate legal systems covering England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other.
Haled (Ch.5; page 125)
The verb to hale means roughly the same as ‘haul,’ which has now superseded it for most purposes. In this sense it means “to drag or pull forcibly,” so there is some reason for still using it in preference to “haul”. Of course, Wodehouse’s main reason for choosing it is to add an incongruous touch of archaism to Ronnie’s rather banal ordeal.
Bosher Street Police Court (Ch.5; page 125) °
Appears to be fictitious: there is currently no street of this name in London, nor does it appear in the 1915 London street directory. Cf. the real Bow Street and Vine Street courts.
Magistrates’ Courts (formerly sometimes known as Police Courts) deal with minor offences, and remand prisoners accused of more serious crimes for jury trial in the Crown Court. The magistrate in this case was probably a stipendiary, i.e. a professional lawyer sitting as a paid part-timer. Outside London, most Justices are lay people, i.e. non-lawyers.
Bertie Wooster comes up before the Bosher Street magistrate in “Without the Option” (1925); in The Code of the Woosters that magistrate is revealed to have been Sir Watkyn Bassett, whom he encounters again with recollections of the incident in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963).
Others who appear in the Bosher Street court include:
Bobbie Wickham (“Something Squishy,” 1924, in which the magistrate is Sir Joseph Moresby)
Ronnie Fish (Summer Lightning/Fish Preferred, 1929)
Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps (recalled in 1940 magazine versions of “The Word in Season”)
Gussie Fink-Nottle (offstage incident in The Mating Season, 1949)
Lord Uffenham (1911 incident recalled in Something Fishy, 1957)
Cosmo Wisdom (Cocktail Time, 1958)
The Hon. J. Blunt (“My World and What Happened to It”; essay in Horizon, 1959)
Oofy Prosser (Ice in the Bedroom, 1961)
Bingo Little (1940 magazine versions of “The Word in Season”; “Bingo Bans the Bomb,” 1965)
P.C. Murgatroyd (Ch.5; page 125) °
Murgatroyd was a name Wodehouse often used for characters mentioned in passing; it is one of those names that seems to fit equally well to aristocrats or to butlers and stablemen.
Murgatroyds in Wodehouse include:
• butler at ffinch Hall in “A Slice of Life” (1926)
• stableman at Langley End in If I Were You (1931)
• former butler at Brinkley, recalled in The Code of the Woosters (1938)
• a director for Perfecto-Zizzbaum in “Noblesse Oblige” (1933)
• the police constable in the present novel who takes Ronnie into custody
• the Bond Street jewelers who reset Julia Ukridge’s diamond brooch in “The Level Business Head” (1926)
• the hosts of a dance near Easeby in “Jeeves Takes Charge” (1916)
• E. Jimpson Murgatroyd, Harley Street physician who is consulted about spots on Tipton Plimsoll’s chest in Full Moon (1947) and on Bertie Wooster’s chest in Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974)
• George Winstanley Murgatroyd, incompetent tennis player in “Prospects for Wambledon” (1929), and
• Mabel Murgatroyd and her father, fifth Earl of Ippleton, in “Bingo Bans the Bomb” (1965).
Murgatroyd is originally a West Yorkshire name. The place formerly known as Moorgateroyd lies near Luddendenfoot in Calderdale (a “royd” was a clearing in a wood).
Baronets called Murgatroyd famously appear in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse (1887), and the name of one of them, Jasper Murgatroyd, was borrowed by Aubrey Jerningham for a story he submits to “The Kind-Hearted Editor” (1908).
[Who’s Who in Wodehouse (1991) ]
Edwin Jones, of 7, Nasturtium Villas, Cricklewood (Ch.5; page 125)
Most of the false names given by Wodehouse characters in such circumstances are Smith, Jones or Robinson. Sippy’s fate in “Without the Option” seems to have been exacerbated by his decision to call himself “Leon Trotzky.” The fact that the police never check these aliases suggests that they knew perfectly well what was going on, but had a policy of turning a blind eye when they arrested the sons of the aristocracy, many of whom they presumably knew by sight anyway. Once again, this is something one can more easily imagine happening in the 1890s than in 1929.
Cricklewood is in north London.
beak (Ch.5; page 126) °
Slang expression for a magistrate or a schoolmaster. The OED is unable to give a derivation, but there may be a link with the archaic thieves’ cant expression ‘harman beck’ (beadle or constable).
Jonathan Green follows Hotten (1859) in suggesting a derivation from OE beag, a necklace worn as an emblem of office.
without the option (Ch.5; page 126) *
If that had been the sentence, Ronnie could not choose to pay a fine in lieu of jail time.
loofah (Ch.5; page 126) °
A type of bath sponge, made from the fibrous skeleton of the fully mature fruit of a tropical vine in the cucumber family.
to make … heavy weather (Ch.5; page 126) *
to allow one’s emotions to be stormy; to make a fuss. Wodehouse would use Heavy Weather as the title of the 1933 sequel to this novel, taking place only some ten days later in story time.
neuralgia (Ch.5; page 128)
A sudden sharp pain in a sensory nerve—often in the face—which has no obvious cause.
Time, the Great Healer (Ch.5; page 129) °
The closest true quote seems to be from Benjamin Disraeli’s Henrietta Temple. ‘Time is the great physician.’
It crops up again in (at least) Uncle Fred in the Springtime, A Damsel in Distress, Right Ho, Jeeves and “Jeeves Takes Charge”.
A British movie of the silent era was entitled “Time the great healer” (1914).
In Seneca’s Moral Essays (Ad Marciam de Consolatione), there is a phrase ‘illud ipsum naturale remedium temporis...’ which I translate as ‘Time, himself, that natural healer ...’ (book translations have it as ‘Even Time, Nature’s great healer’), so the phrase is obviously of some antiquity.
See also Right Ho, Jeeves.
seeking a Mr. Gargery (Ch.5; page 129)
...but presumably without any Great Expectations of finding him?
(Joe Gargery is Pip’s brother-in-law in Dickens’s novel.)
Chapter 6 (Ch.6; page 131)
Sue Has an Idea
Runs from pp. 131 to 136 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
wen (Ch.6; page 132)
An ugly but harmless skin-growth, resulting from obstruction of the sebaceous glands. Often used figuratively for something offensive or repulsive, e.g. Cobbett’s term for London, “The Great Wen.”
yam (Ch.6; page 133) °
It’s a bit of a mystery how this becomes an insult. The OED tells us that, apart from referring to the tuberous roots of dioscorea, staple diet in many tropical and sub-tropical areas, it is used loosely in Scotland to refer to certain large varieties of potato, and in the US for sweet potatoes. There is no record of its use in a figurative sense. Certainly, root vegetables are not particularly pretty to look at, but yams would have been a rare sight in British greengrocers’ shops in those days. There is another word “yam,” meaning Russian posting-house, but that isn’t much help.
Elsie Bean (Anne-Marie Chanet) adds: The French word ‘patate’—which is an obvious cognate of English ‘potato’—is properly used to refer to a (tropical) yam ; in common (and “vulgar”) usage, however, ‘patate’ is loosely used instead of ‘pomme-de-terre’ [“potato”], so that in French the relation between ‘patate’ and ‘pomme-de-terre’ is about the same as that holding in English between ‘yam’ and ‘potato’. Now, the interesting thing is that French ‘patate’ too is commonly used as a derogatory and insulting term (“stupid person”).
I think this figurative use is derived from the idea that ‘patates’ are thought to be big, shapeless and (from a gastronomical point of view) tasteless and quite uninteresting. Perhaps the derivation was similar for ‘yam’ ?
2. Pop. ou arg.
a) [Terme d’injure] Personne stupide, empotée. Synon. imbécile. Quelle patate! Va donc, eh, patate! (Dict.XIXe et XXes.).
JEUX, SPORTS. Jouer comme une patate. Mal jouer. (Ds QUILLET 1965).
[ Trésor de la langue française s.v. PATATE]
[Green’s Dictionary of Slang has American citations from 1920 and 1930 for yam as a usually derogatory term for a man.]
the botts (Ch.6; page 136) *
Any of various diseases of horses, sheep, cows, and other domesticated animals, caused by infection with the maggots of parasitic flies.
Chapter 7 (Ch.7; page 137)
A Job for Percy Pilbeam
Runs from pp. 137 to 158 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
missing the eight forty-five (Ch.7; page 137)
Wodehouse has to use a bit of imagination to put himself into the position of the commuter wage-slave. When he worked at the bank, the day started at the civilised hour of ten a.m., and he only had to travel from Chelsea to the City (around half an hour on the District Line). There probably weren’t many office workers in the 1920s who could delay their departure for work until 8.45.
abate smoky chimneys (Ch.7; page 137) *Frequently mentioned as a bone of contention between householders and local authority.
“On no fewer than three occasions in the last ten days he has served summonses upon Miss Sipperley—for exceeding the speed limit in her car; for allowing her dog to appear in public without a collar; and for failing to abate a smoking chimney.”
“Without the Option” (1925; collected in Carry On, Jeeves!)
His beady little eyes hardened, and from them there peeped out the fighting spirit of that Albert Edward Pilbeam who once refused to pay a fine and did seven days in Brixton jail for failing to abate a smoky chimney.
Heavy Weather (1933), ch. 12
Such a gift, if Stilton heard of it, would have led to his tearing me limb from limb or, at the best, summoning me for failing to abate a smoky chimney. You can’t be too careful how you stir up policemen.
Joy in the Morning (1947), ch. 8
He was taut and alert, as became an officer who, after a jog-trot existence of Saturday drunks and failures to abate smoky chimneys, finds himself faced for the first time with crime on a colossal scale.
Uncle Dynamite (1948), ch. 7.3
It was a Wodehouse who in the year 1911 did seven days in the county jail—rather than pay a fine—for failing to abate a smoky chimney.
“To the Critics, These Pearls” in America, I Like You (1956)
“You seem to me to have a stern, official air, as if you had seen somebody moving pigs without a permit or failing to abate a smoky chimney.”
Cocktail Time (1958), ch. 21
As it was, the eye he was now directing at him was as cold and bleak as if an old crony had been standing before him in the dock, charged with having moved pigs without a permit or failed to abate a smoky chimney.
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963), ch. 19
In his long career as a member of the Wallingford force he had never had to deal with anything more heinous than an occasional case of failing to abate a smoky chimney or moving pigs without a permit, except of course when the races were on with their quota of drunks and disorderlies.
Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968), ch. 12.2
“I wonder what they had done to him to stir him up like that. Probably fined him five quid for failing to abate a smoky chimney.”
Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974), ch. 1
first prize for pumpkins ... daughter of an American millionaire (Ch.7; page 138)
See “The Custody of the Pumpkin.” Aggie Donaldson, the American in question, was a niece of the head gardener, McAllister.
Shepperton (Ch.7; page 138)
Shepperton, Middlesex, is about 30km west of London, on the Thames due south of what is now Heathrow Airport. There is a Bull, a Ship and an Anchor, but there no longer seems to be a Jolly Miller, if there ever was. The village is best-known as the location of one of Britain’s main film studios, of course.
“You don’t need a hat to tax a man with stealing a pig” (Ch.7; page 144)
Emily Post is silent on this point. However, it is difficult to square Gally’s assertion with the fact that the detective never takes his hat off when taxing people with crimes (cf. “Fate”). It would also seem a little ill-advised for Lord Emsworth to walk or drive bare-headed to Much Matchingham in August sunshine.
country ramble ... snake in his path (Ch.7; page 144)
Britain has only two native snakes, the harmless—and very rare—grass snake, and the adder, which, though poisonous, is very shy of humans, and only likely to bite you if you step on it by accident.
seventh baronet of his line (Ch.7; page 144)
A baronetcy is effectively a hereditary knighthood. There were 856 in existence in 1880. They were mostly created in the first quarter of the 17th century by the Stuarts as a way of raising money for their wars—untitled gentry families were put under heavy pressure to buy baronetcies, in some cases even imprisoned for refusing. The resentment this aroused was one of the factors that led to the Civil War.
Possibly these dubious origins, and the fact that many baronets had their estates in the remote wilds of Ireland, led to the cliché of the “bad baronet.”
(If Sir Gregory inherited around 1910, and has only had six predecessors, it sounds as though his title can’t have been created much before 1700, unless his ancestors either married very late, or always inherited from their grandfathers.)
[David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy]
Unionist Committee (Ch.7; page 145)
As a baronet, Sir Gregory is not a peer, and remains entitled to stand for election to the Commons.
Unionists, in British politics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were conservatives who opposed Irish independence. The English Tory Party is still known in full as “Conservative and Unionist”. Parliamentary candidates in Wodehouse are often Unionists, even, as here, long after the term became obsolete in mainland Great Britain (there are still Unionist parties in Northern Ireland, of course).
Bridgeford and Shifley (Ch.7; page 145)
Fictitious: cf. the real Shropshire placenames Bridgenorth and Shifnal. Notice that Wodehouse uses widely separated places to avoid any too-direct clue as to where Blandings is...
Norman Murphy has identified Weston Park, five miles from Shifnal, as one of the main sources for Blandings.
The corresponding constituencies today would be The Wrekin (MP in 2002: Peter Bradley), Ludlow (Matthew Green), Telford (David Wright) and possibly also part of Shrewsbury and Atcham (Paul Marsden).
[Murphy, N. T. P., In Search of Blandings (1986) ]
Barthood (Ch.7; page 145)
Seems to be a whimsical coinage by Wodehouse—not recorded in the OED. “Bart.” is of course the standard abbreviation for baronet, used after someone’s name. Gilbert also has fun using Bart as though it were a word in its own right in Ruddigore.
Your sins have found you out (Ch.7; page 146)
Gally is continuing the “bad baronet” theme with this cliché of pulpit and melodrama, which does not seem to have a specific scriptural source.
Be very careful (Ch.7; page 146)
Gally has moved from the pulpit to the courtroom...
The pig you stole last night (Ch.7; page 147)
Emsworth in his perturbed state seems to have lost a day somewhere: it is morning, but Hugo has had time to go to London and report back on his failure to hire detectives, so it must be at least the second day after the Big Robbery.
blood pressure ... one hundred and fifty (Ch.7; page 148)
Blood pressure is conventionally measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) above atmospheric pressure and recorded as a systolic and a diastolic value (the pressure and suction strokes of the heart). A normal blood pressure at rest is less than 135/85 mmHg.
Coot ... Sort of duck (Ch.7; page 148)
The coot is NOT a “sort of duck”. Indeed, coots and ducks are not even closely related!
The Eurasian Coot, Fulica atra, is a member of the Family Rallidae, which encompasses rails, crakes, moorhens and the like. The Rallidae are one of about a dozen families that are classed in the Order Gruiformes.
Ducks, on the other hand, are members of the Family Anatidae, which is one of two families comprising the Order Anseriformes.
In standard avian checklists, such as that by the Dutch systematist Voous, which attempt (not entirely satisfactorily) to list the various Orders in a sequence that purports to reflect evolutionary relationships, the Anseriformes and Gruiformes are not even adjacent, the Falconiformes (birds of prey) and Galliformes (including the pheasants and grouse), usually coming between them.
A Gentleman of Leisure
11 August 2002
Café de l’Europe (Ch.7; page 148)
The most famous cafés of this name were in Paris and Vienna, and the expression was also used figuratively in the 18th century of the resort of Spa in the Ardennes. Nevertheless, Gally is probably referring to the establishment in Leicester Square.
Buckingham Palace (Ch.7; page 149)
A large house near Victoria Station. Built by the Earl of Buckingham in 1703, sold off to George III in 1761, and has served as the main London residence of the royal family since 1837. Guarded ceremonially by men only slightly less absurdly dressed than Sir Gregory, although nowadays they are armed with something more substantial than sticks of celery.
the story of the prawns (Ch.7; page 149)
Wodehouse never reveals this—together with the incident of Uncle Fred at the dog races, it remains a mystery. Norman Murphy supplies ingenious versions of both in his reconstruction of the Reminiscences.
[Murphy, N. T. P., Reminiscences of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood (1993) ]
A gentleman ... A baronet (Ch.7; page 150)
This sounds to the reader like a variant of the old music-hall joke “That was no lady, that was my wife,” although the office-boy clearly doesn’t intend it like that.
...it is foreign to the editorial policy (Ch.7; page 152)
Wodehouse is getting in a little dig at the way in which editors use language like this to avoid taking personal responsibility for unpleasant decisions, like turning down contributions.
the greater the truth, the greater the ... (Ch.7; page 152)
Lord Mansfield’s famous dictum summarises the English law of defamation as it was before it was reformed in the mid–19th century. Since then, “justification” (i.e. truth) has been a defence in libel suits, although the burden of proof is on the defendant, and the libel law remains a blunt instrument with which wealthy people can keep the press quiet (unlike the US, there is no “public interest” defence), but the cost of which leaves the rest of us defenceless against defamatory statements.
Although, as Parsloe says, a court case can be very damaging to both parties, in the real world Gally would have had a hard time getting publishers, printers and booksellers to take the risk of getting involved in an expensive lawsuit, and would probably have been required to indemnify them against possible damages. A newspaper publisher like Lord Tilbury would have more experience of such matters and an experienced team of libel lawyers with a litigation budget that would scare off all but the most determined. For more on the iniquities of the English libel law, see Geoffrey Robertson.
The greater the truth, the greater the libel
[Murray, William, Earl of Mansfield (1704–1793) ]
Chapter 8 (Ch.8; page 159)
The Storm-clouds Hover Over Blandings
Runs from pp. 159 to 173 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
ink-stained but cheerful (Ch.8; page 159)
From this, and the similar reference in Chapter I, we must conclude that Gally wrote with pen and ink, and not, as Wodehouse always did, on a typewriter. Presumably, Wodehouse is drawing our attention to his amateur status as a writer. One supposes that Dickens or Trollope, even though writing before the introduction of the typewriter, would have mastered the tools of his trade to the extent that the ink confined itself to the paper.
Major-General Magnus (Ch.8; page 160)
This, together with the follow-up on page 165, seems to be the only reference to the general. However, in “The Crime-Wave at Blandings,” there is another reference to the fact that Beach has was previously employed elsewhere when he reminds Lord Emsworth that the shooting of the governess took place before he came to the Castle.
Ibsen (Ch.8; page 160)
The Norwegian Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) was probably the most influential dramatist of the 19th century. With his passion for tackling issues of the sort that the bourgeois society of his day would have preferred to see swept under the carpet, it is hardly surprising that he was not much to Wodehouse’s taste.
the Shimmy (Ch.8; page 161)
A dance, similar to the foxtrot but with more shaking about, which was mainly popular in the 1920s. Wodehouse wrote the lyrics of “Shimmy with me” for the 1922 show The Cabaret Girl.
Start up the music and
Come out and shimmy with me!
Just try to feel
As if you’ve swallowed an eel;
You’ll find that helps a good deal!
[Wodehouse, P.G. Shimmy with me ]
Servants’ Ball (Ch.8; page 161)
It was the custom in many grand houses to give an annual entertainment for the servants, usually also inviting servants from neighbouring houses. In some houses members of the family would withdraw tactfully elsewhere, in others they would staff the buffet and stay around to see that things didn’t get out of hand.
Johnny Schoonmaker (Ch.8; page 161)
Some thirty years later, he appears in person in Service with a Smile.
mint julep (Ch.8; page 161)
A drink, associated with the South of the USA, made with spirits (normally Bourbon whiskey), ice, sugar and mint leaves.
Oxford ... London to Blackpool (Ch.8; page 161)
The most obvious way from London to Blackpool (about 220 miles, 370 km) would have been to follow the A6 via Leicester and Derby (road numbering was introduced in 1923). It would have been a little further to go via Oxford and Shrewsbury, but the scenery would have been pleasanter. Shropshire would be about halfway.
Possibly the unusual number of motoring references in this book is related to the motoring tour of Scotland that Wodehouse—apart from one unfortunate experience in his youth a non-driver—made with Ian Hay in 1928.
Tattersall’s (Ch.8; page 161)
The leading racehorse auctioneers have been in business at Newmarket since 1766.
Theosophy (Ch.8; page 163)
A mystical philosophical system that takes the existence of God as its starting point, and seeks to deal with the presence of evil in the world. The Theosophical Society was founded by Mme. Blavatsky in 1875, although many of the ideas involved go back to Jakob Boehme and beyond.
Wodehouse’s brother Armine was a theosophist, and became head of the theosphical college at Benares, India.
The theosophical writer and lecturer Mrs Horace Hignett (The Spreading Light, What of the Morrow, etc.), who may be based loosely on Annie Besant, appears in The Girl on the Boat.
spavined (Ch.8; page 163)
Lame—horses suffering from spavin have bony growths on the joints of their legs.
Edgar Allan Poe (Ch.8; page 163)
American writer (1809–1849), noted especially for his tales of the mysterious and macabre. Gally may be thinking particularly of “The fall of the House of Usher.”
apple-pie bed (Ch.8; page 164)
It shouldn’t be necessary to annotate this for real Wodehouse fans, but for those who don’t know, an “apple-pie bed” is a bed made up in such a way as to look perfectly normal while making it impossible to get in properly, usually by folding the sheets lengthways. Actual pastry is not involved.
Transmigration of Souls (Ch.8; page 164)
This doctrine (see following page for Millicent’s explanation) found its way into Theosophy both from Hinduism and from the Neoplatonic ideas of the Kabbalists.
a bit of a snack (Ch.8; page 168)
Lord Emsworth doesn’t have much reason for being puzzled by this expression - the use of the word snack (originally a share, or portion) to mean “something less than a full meal” goes back to the early 18th century. Of course, in his position, he may never have eaten anything less than a full meal himself...
Possibly his objection is not to the word “snack” but to the reinforcing “a bit of,” which purists might consider redundant?
Saul among the prophets (Ch.8; page 168)
9 And it was so, that, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel,
God gave him another heart: and all those signs came to pass that day.
10 And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.
11 And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?
12 And one of the same place answered and said, But who is their father? Therefore it became a proverb, Is Saul also among the prophets?
[Bible 1 Samuel 10:9–12]
skittle-sharps (Ch.8; page 172)
On the opposite side of the street, we observed a jolly, comfortable-looking,
elderly man, like a farmer in appearance, not at all like a London sharper.
He was standing looking along the street as though he were waiting for someone.
He was a magsman (a skittle-sharp), and no doubt other members of the gang
were hovering near. He appeared to be as cunning as an old fox in his movements,
admirably fitted to entrap the unwary.
[Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (1851)]
On every race-course there was a public gambling booth and an
abundance of thimble-riggers’ stalls. These, I am happy to
state, exist no longer; and the fools who are always ready to be
plucked, can only, in gambling, fall victims to the commonest and
coarsest of swindlers; skittle sharps, beer-house rogues and
sharpers, and knaves who travel to entrap the unwary in railway
carriages with loaded dice, marked cards, and little squares of
green baize for tables, and against whom the authorities of the
railway companies very properly warn their passengers.
[Mr Sala (?), Quoted in The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims by Andrew Steinmetz]
Chapter 9 (Ch.9; page 174)
Runs from pp. 174 to 179 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
beige suit ... Her frock was right... (Ch.9; page 174)
As usual, Wodehouse gives us a functional rather than a visual description of what Sue is wearing, avoiding anything which will date the story. Apart from the fact that hats are no longer part of everyday wear for young women, the description would fit today’s clothes almost as well as those of the late 1920s.
passed the Censor (Ch.9; page 174)
It’s not clear if Wodehouse had a specific Censor in mind. It might be a theatrical expression, or he might be relating Beach to the Roman magistrates with this title. Wodehouse’s first extended visit to Hollywood took place after he had finished Summer Lightning, so it’s probably not a film reference.
many years within its walls (Ch.9; page 175)
From p.165 above, we know that Beach was still with General Magnus in 1912. Thus, if we assume the action of this book is set in or before 1929, he has been at Blandings at most 17 years at this point.
Japanese mask (Ch.9; page 176)
Probably acquired during the craze for Japanese art that gripped England in the 1890s.
suet dumpling ... fifteen to eight (Ch.9; page 177)
Presumably the payout would have been one and seven-eighths suet dumplings, less betting tax...
I had the impression that you were very tall (Ch.9; page 178)
Curiously, when the real Miss Schoonmaker turns up in Service With a Smile, she is rather small. Evidently Wodehouse described her as tall in Summer Lightning to make things more interesting for Sue, but then when she became a Wodehouse heroine in her own right, cut her down to the usual size.
Chapter 10 (Ch.10; page 180)
A Shock for Sue
Runs from pp. 180 to 195 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Lobelias (Ch.10; page 183)
A herb, often used as a decorative plant for ground cover, in window boxes, etc., producing large numbers of flowers (usually blue, purple or crimson).
...as the gentle rain from heaven (Ch.10; page 183)
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
’T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
[Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) Merchant of Venice IV:i]
statistics relating to madness among coots (Ch.10; page 186)
Coots are perhaps more often associated with baldness than with madness, but the expression “mad as a coot” is not uncommon—it occurs a number of times in Kipling’s stories, for example.
George Pallant (Ch.10; page 186)
Pallant is the name of a district of Chichester, West Sussex. There is also a short story by Henry James called “Louisa Pallant.”
Packleby (Ch.10; page 186)
A mystery: seems to be invented—perhaps a variant of Dickens’s “Nickleby” with the “Pa-” of “Pallant.”
the biggest fool in the Brigade of Guards (Ch.10; page 189)
Presumably he would no longer be “in the Brigade of Guards” when he reached the rank of Major-General. But Emsworth may well be referring to the earlier stages of his career. Since the Guards regiments used to draw their officers exclusively from the very highest social classes, they did not have a great reputation for intelligence.
the Wrekin (Ch.10; page 190)
One of Shropshire’s most famous and conspicuous hills. Although it is only 407m high, it rises very sharply, giving spectacular views over the Shropshire countryside. It is near Wellington, about 10km west of Shifnal.
See Murphy for a discussion of the implications of all these various geographical clues for the location of Blandings.
On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
[Housman, A.E. (1859–1935) A Shropshire Lad
[Murphy, N. T. P., In Search of Blandings (1986) ]
bezique (Ch.10; page 193)
A card game for two players, using either two or four 32-card packs. Its complexity would appeal to Baxter.
Chapter 11 (Ch.11; page 196)
More Shocks for Sue
Runs from pp. 196 to 211 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Isle of Man (Ch.11; page 196)
A largish island in the Irish Sea, roughly equidistant from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Like the Channel Islands, it is an autonomous dependent territory of the UK, nowadays popular as a tax haven.
It takes about four hours to get there from the mainland by steamer. The Irish Sea is not infrequently rougher than it looks from the shore. Sue would probably have been on a seaside holiday (or her mother playing in a seaside theatre) somewhere like Llandudno or Fleetwood when she was taken on the steamer trip.
“That young Fish?” (Ch.11; page 197)
Wodehouse might almost have chosen Ronnie’s name with just this line in mind.
Alhambra ... Vine Street (Ch.11; page 200)
The Alhambra Theatre on Leicester Square was the first of London’s big music halls, opening ca. 1865.
Vine Street police station was just behind Piccadilly Circus, about five minutes’ walk from Leicester Square.
Heron’s Hill ... Matchelows (Ch.11; page 201)
Fictitious, of course, but there is a place called Heron’s Ghyll in Sussex, near Uckfield.
Matchelow seems to be an invented name, cf. the real name Bigelow.
Wodehouse uses variants of this anecdote in a number of other places.
war-horses at the note of the bugle (Ch.11; page 202)
19 Hast thou given the horse strength?
Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?
20 Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper?
The glory of his nostrils is terrible.
21 He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength:
he goeth on to meet the armed men.
22 He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted;
neither turneth he back from the sword.
23 The quiver rattleth against him,
the glittering spear and the shield.
24 He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage:
neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
25 He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha!
And he smelleth the battle afar off,
the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
[Bible Job 39:19-25]
bezique ... mallet (Ch.11; page 206)
It’s not clear what a mallet would be used for in a card game like Bezique. Possibly Wodehouse originally wrote “croquet” (another fiendishly complicated game, when played by experts), then changed it to “Bezique”?
mot juste (Ch.11; page 206)
the right word (French)
Schopenhauer ... suffering ... boredom (Ch.11; page 211)
Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher, author of The World as Will and Representation, was noted for his pessimism and misogyny.
We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of the
butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey. So it is
that in our good days we are all unconscious of the evil Fate may have presently
in store for us—sickness, poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason.
No little part of the torment of existence lies in this, that Time is continually pressing upon us, never letting us take breath, but always coming after us like a taskmaster with a whip. If at any moment Time stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to the misery of boredom.
But misfortune has its uses; for, as our bodily frame would burst asunder if the pressure of the atmosphere were removed, so, if the lives of great men were relieved of all need, hardship and adversity; if everything they took in hand were successful, they would be so swollen with arrogance that, though they might not burst they would present the spectacle of unbridled folly—nay, they would go mad. And I may say, further, that a certain amount of care or pain or trouble is necessary for every man at all times. A ship without ballast is unstable and will not go straight.
[Schopenhauer, Arthur (1788–1860) [tr. T. Bailey Saunders] Parerga und Paralipomena “On the Sufferings of the World”]
Schopenhauer says suicide’s absolutely OK (Ch.11; page 211)
In the essay “On Suicide” he doesn’t quite say this, but he does mock the lack of logic, as he sees it, in the prohibitions of suicide in the major monotheistic religions.
Liberty Hall (Ch.11; page 212)
A place where one may do as one pleases. From Oliver Goldsmith’s play, She Stoops to Conquer. (1773)
Chapter 12 (Ch.12; page 213)
Activities of Beach the Butler
Runs from pp. 213 to 240 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
morning room (Ch.12; page 213)
This is one of those terms that can mean several different things, but often refers to a sitting room which faces east to get the sun in the mornings (English houses actively seek the sun; those in more favoured regions hide from it).
Commination Service (Ch.12; page 213)
A formal denunciation of sinners (sometimes evil spirits). In the original Anglican liturgy, there was a general commination service provided for use after Matins on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent).
BRETHREN, in the prymitive churche there was a godlye disciplyne, that at
the begynnyng of lente suche persones as were notorious synners, were put
to open penaunce, and punished in this worlde, that theyr soules myght bee
saved in the day of the lord. And that other admonished by theyr example,
might he more afrayed to offende. In the steede [stead] whereof until the
saide disciplyne maye bee restored agayne; (whiche thynge is muche to bee
wyshed,) it is thoughte good, that at thys tyme (in your presence) shoulde
bee read the general sentences of goddes Cursyng agaynste impenitente sinners,
gathered out of the xxvii Chapter of Deuteronomie, and other places of scripture.
And that ye shoulde aunswere to every sentence, Amen: To thentente that you
beeyng admonished of the greate indignacion of God agaynste sinners: may
the rather be called to earneste and true repentaunce, and maye walke more
warely in these daungerous dayes, fleyng from suche vices, for the whiche
ye affirme with your owne mouthes: the curse of god to be due.
¶ CURSED is the man that maketh any carved or molten image, an abominacion to the Lorde, the woorke of the handes of the craftesmanne, and putteth it in a secrete place, to wurship it.
[ Book of Common Prayer (1549) Service for Ash Wednesday]
bowler hat (Ch.12; page 218)
Although the bowler hat has now become inextricably linked with the “city gent” image (mainly through British films of the 1950s and 60s), it was originally associated with clerks and upper servants when out of doors. It is still worn, for example, by Oxford college porters, when out of doors on official business.
Tennyson’s poem ... followed the gleam (Ch.12; page 219)
The character in question was Merlin, the wizard.
Not of the sunlight,
Not of the moonlight,
Not of the starlight!
O young Mariner,
Down to the haven,
Call your companions,
Launch your vessel,
And crowd your canvas,
And, ere it vanishes
Over the margin,
After it, follow it,
Follow The Gleam.
[Tennyson, Alfred Lord (1809–1892) Merlin and the Gleam IX]
Ajax ... defied the lightning (Ch.12; page 222)
This is not the well-known Ajax, but the other one, the leader of the forces from Locris in the Trojan War, referred to as the Locrian Ajax, Ajax of Oileus, or Ajax the Lesser. In the sack of Troy he raped Cassandra at the altar of Athena, and Athena had him shipwrecked on the way home. Poseidon saved him, but Ajax defied the lightning to strike him down and was instantly struck by it.
“In German?” (Ch.12; page 223)
Conclusive proof of the supreme intelligence of the supreme pig, perhaps?
“You don’t think this floor will give way?” (Ch.12; page 223)
It has done so at least once in the past, under the weight of Freddie Threepwood (Leave it to Psmith Ch. 13 pt.4).
derrick (Ch.12; page 230)
A crane, as used for handling cargo on a ship.
long hair and rompers (Ch.12; page 231)
Young women in the 1920s wore their hair short, of course. Rompers are a one-piece garment for small children (nowadays usually romper-suit). The OED lists the first use as 1909, which would be just in time for Millicent, but I’m not certain whether they were worn on both sides of the Atlantic.
trained by his lordship from infancy ... pig-worship (Ch.12; page 231)
This is the first real evidence we have that Lord Emsworth’s pig-keeping goes back more than a few years.
in my puff (Ch.12; page 233)
Slang, ca. 1920: “in my life.” One of the earliest examples in the OED is from Mr Mulliner Speaking (also 1929).
It is a far, far better thing (Ch.12; page 235)
This is Sydney Carton, on the way to the guillotine for his friend’s sake.
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far,
far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
[Dickens, Charles A Tale of Two Cities Pt.3 Ch.15]
There’s a light in thy bow-er (Ch.12; page 235)
Presumably a song of Beach’s youth.
Diseases in Pigs (Ch.12; page 237)
There is a MAFF booklet of this title from the 1950s, but I have found nothing before 1929 as yet.
What was Baxter to him or he to Baxter...? (Ch.12; page 237)
An echo of Hamlet talking about the player?
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.
[Shakespeare Hamlet II:ii]
gravamen (Ch.12; page 237)
This originally meant simply a grievance, but by the 19th century had come to mean the most serious (or pertinent) part of an accusation.
(The word also has a rather technical meaning in canon law.)
Chapter 13 (Ch.13; page 241)
Cocktails Before Dinner
Runs from pp. 241 to 265 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
sunset (Ch.13; page 241)
It is August, and presumably it can only be about eight o’clock, but the sun is already setting, in spite of daylight-saving time. An hour or so later, in Ch.17, the sun is still setting.
F.R.Z.S. (Ch.13; page 249)
Presumably “Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society”—a title which does not exist in Britain (there is a RZS in New South Wales). Pilbeam would probably have been a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London (FZSL), the society which runs London and Whipsnade Zoos, which has never used the word “Royal” in its title, although it is incorporated by Royal Charter.
In contrast to the practice of most other learned societies, lay people who join the ZSL to support its work financially have always been known as Fellows; scientists who are elected on the basis of their work are called Scientific Fellows.
jimcrack (Ch.13; page 251)
Insubstantial or decorative work. This word has been around in various forms since at least the fourteenth century—its origins are obscure.
Old King Cole (Ch.13; page 256)
Legendary British (or Romano-British) king, sometimes identified with the town of Colchester, and said to have been the father of St Helena (mother of the Emperor Constantine), although this may be an invention of Evelyn Waugh (see Helena). The rhyme exists in a number of versions, and may have 18th century origins.
Old King Cole
was a merry old soul,
and a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
and he called for his bowl,
and he called for his fiddlers three.
And every fiddler, he had a fine fiddle,
and a very fine fiddle had he.
“Twee tweedle dee, tweedle dee,”
went the fiddlers
Oh, there’s none so rare
as can compare
with King Cole and his fiddlers three.
[Traditional Old King Cole ]
the Spaniard who blighted my life (Ch.13; page 261)
(Normally listed as “The Spaniard that blighted my life”)
A cheerfully xenophobic song, by the British music-hall comedian Billy Merson (Nottingham’s answer to George Formby), who recorded it in 1911.
It was used in the Al Jolson vehicle The Honeymoon Express (Jean Schwarz and Harold Atteridge, Winter Garden, New York, 1913), and this version was recorded by Al Jolson in March 1913. Note that in this show, Jolson was playing the butler.
There also seems to be an Al Jolson/Bing Crosby duet version...
Yeomanry uniform (Ch.13; page 263)
The Yeomanry was the volunteer cavalry reserve of the British army, established in 1794, and later merged into the Territorial Army. As a local landowner, Emsworth would have felt obliged to play his part as an officer. We are told (p.297 below) that he has never seen active service, though he would presumably still have been of military age during the Sudanese and South African wars.
He appears to have fallen downstairs (Ch.13; page 265)
This was becoming something of a tradition at Blandings. Baxter is Something Fresh seems to have been the first victim of the polished oak, and many others were to follow.
Chapter 14 (Ch.14; page 266)
Swift Thinking by the Efficient Baxter
Runs from pp. 266 to 277 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
woman wailing for her demon lover (Ch.14; page 266)
Is this a record—265 pages without a reference to either Kublai Khan or Stout Cortez?
IN Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced;
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ’mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that done in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
[Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772–1834) Kubla Khan ]
tocsin of the soul (Ch.14; page 266)
Wodehouse probably lifted this one straight out of Bartlett, who quotes only the last couplet of stanza 49. However, the reference to the muezzin that follows does make one wonder if he at least dimly remembered that Canto V has Don Juan in Turkey? He is on his way to the harem, disguised as a woman, having been bought in the slave market by one of the Sultan’s wives...
X But I digress: of all appeals, -- although
I grant the power of pathos, and of gold,
Of beauty, flattery, threats, a shilling, -- no
Method’s more sure at moments to take hold
Of the best feelings of mankind, which grow
More tender, as we every day behold,
Than that all-softening, overpowering knell,
The tocsin of the soul -- the dinner-bell.
Turkey contains no bells, and yet men dine;
And Juan and his friend, albeit they heard
No Christian knoll to table, saw no line
Of lackeys usher to the feast prepared,
Yet smelt roast-meat, beheld a huge fire shine,
And cooks in motion with their clean arms bared,
And gazed around them to the left and right
With the prophetic eye of appetite.
[Byron, George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron (17881824) Don Juan Canto V: 49-50]
muezzin (Ch.14; page 266)
In a mosque, the muezzin is the person who calls the faithful to prayer from the minaret.
...banged the telephone violently on the table (Ch.14; page 270)
Old telephones used a carbon microphone, whose performance decreased over time as the carbon granules packed themselves down into a solid body. Banging the mouthpiece against something solid had the effect of loosening the granules and improving the microphone’s response. However, it would have no significant effect if the problem was with the microphone at the other end, as it seems to have been in this case.
Telegram (Ch.14; page 270)
Long-distance and international telephone calls were still very expensive and uncertain, so it would have been usual to send messages of this kind by telegram (or postcard), even if the parties at both ends had telephone connections. Telegrams were delivered by telephone where possible, otherwise by messenger.
French windows ... balcony (Ch.14; page 273)
French windows (French doors in some English-speaking countries) are glass doors opening from a room directly to the outside, usually to a garden or balcony.
Later in the canon the Garden Room, favoured by the Duke of Dunstable, does not have a balcony, but is on the ground floor, with French windows opening directly onto the garden.
way of an eagle ... way of a diving duck (Ch.14; page 275)
These are perhaps meant as parodies of the names of moves in some oriental martial art.
Eastbourne (Ch.14; page 277)
A genteel seaside resort in Sussex: a popular place for retirement homes.
unsubstantial fabric of a dream (Ch.14; page 277)
Chapter 15 (Ch.15; page 278)
Over the Telephone
Runs from pp. 278 to 291 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
a sister art (Ch.15; page 278)
chamois of the Alps (Ch.15; page 278)
See Sam the Sudden.
Rodin’s Thinker (Ch.15; page 279)
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), the most celebrated French sculptor of the 19th century, was commissioned in 1880 to make a monumental doorway for a museum which, in the event, was never built. He worked on this project, known as Les Portes de L’Enfer, and inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, for the rest of his life.
The central figure is the poet Dante himself, naked and sitting on a rock with his head resting on his hand. This figure has become famous in its own right as Le Penseur (the Thinker).
dinner-jacket (Ch.15; page 279)
As most of the company were away, Hugo had dressed informally in a dinner-jacket (“black tie”; US: tuxedo) rather than the full evening dress (“white tie and tails”) which would probably have been required on grander nights at Blandings.
Woman’s wit was going to bring home the bacon... (Ch.15; page 280)
Perhaps a slightly unfortunate expression in the circumstances!
tide in the affairs of men (Ch.15; page 282)
Brutus: There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Cassius: Then, with your will, go on;
We’ll along ourselves, and meet them at Philippi.
[Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) Julius Caesar IV:3,249-257]
Uncle Lester ... Rudge Hall (Ch.15; page 282)
See Money for Nothing. Rudge Hall is Hunstanton Castle transplanted to worcestershire, of course.
All flesh is as grass (Ch.15; page 283)
6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass,
and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7 the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
[Bible Isaiah 40:6]
Chapter 16 (Ch.16; page 283)
Runs from pp. 287 to 298 in the Herbert Jenkins edition.
There is also a chapter with this title in Thank You Jeeves. It is certainly a reference to the famous song from Twelfth Night:
O MISTRESS mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming
That can sing both high and low;
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting
Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
[Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) Twelfth Night II:3]
lorgnette (Ch.16; page 283)
Spectacles (usually reading glasses) provided with a short, foldable handle, instead of earpieces. Wielded with devastating effect by many of Wodehouse’s dowagers, and before them by Oscar Wilde’s Lady Basildon, Mrs Allonby, and Gwendolen, but oddly enough not (in the text) by Lady Bracknell herself.
Gwendolen. [...] Cecily, mamma, whose views on education are remarkably
strict, has brought me up to be extremely short-sighted; it is part of her
system; so do you mind my looking at you through my glasses?
Cecily. Oh! not at all, Gwendolen. I am very fond of being looked at.
Gwendolen. [After examining Cecily carefully through a lorgnette.] You are here on a short visit, I suppose.
[Wilde, Oscar The Importance of Being Earnest II:ii]
Chapter 17 (Ch.17; page 292)
Spirited Conduct of Lord Emsworth
Runs from pp. 292 to 298 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Antelope ... Hispano-Suiza (Ch.17; page 292)
While Antelope seems to be fictitious, Hispano-Suiza was a real make of car.
Hispano-Suiza (founded by a Swiss engineer and a Spanish banker, hence the name), manufactured luxury cars in Barcelona from 1904 to 1936 and near Paris from 1911 to 1936. The Spanish part of the company ceased to make cars and lost its separate identity as a result of the civil war, while the French part concentrated on aero engines and still exists as a supplier of aerospace components within the SNECMA group.
March Hares ... Mad Hatters (Ch.17; page 294)
Both are proverbially mad, but when they appear in combination there is certainly a reference to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland.
daylight saving (Ch.17; page 294)
“Summer time” (one hour ahead of GMT) was first introduced in Britain in 1916, as a temporary wartime economy measure, the clocks reverting to GMT in the darker winter months. Apart from a short period of double summer time in World War II, and Harold Wilson’s abortive attempt to maintain summer time all year round (1968–1971), the pattern has remained in use ever since.
Agincourt (Ch.17; page 298)
English triumph during the Hundred Years War. Taking place in October 1415, Henry V faced a vastly larger, but undisciplined, French army on their own soil. English courage and longbow superiority carried the day.
An ancestor of Wodehouse is supposed to have fought at Agincourt.
Chapter 18 (Ch.18; page 299)
Painful Scene in a Bedroom
Runs from pp. 299 to 312 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Cleopatra (Ch.18; page 302)
Cleopatra VII (69-31 BCE), Macedonian queen of Egypt, the last of the Ptolemies to hold power. As head of the most economically important country in the region, she inevitably became involved in the power struggles for the control of the Roman Empire, marrying Julius Caesar and, after Caesar’s assassination, Mark Anthony (she also had to marry two of her younger brothers and one of her sons at various times to comply with Egyptian dynastic law). When Anthony was defeated by Octavian she committed suicide rather than be humiliated as a Roman captive.
J. Horace Jevons (Ch.18; page 304)
cf. Leave it to Psmith and “The Crime-Wave at Blandings.” Jevons had been Baxter’s employer before he first came to work for Lord Emsworth.
Major-General Sir Miles Fish, C.B.O. (Ch.18; page 311)
“C.B.O.” does not correspond to any known honour. As he was Sir Miles, he must have had a “K” somewhere, so Garrison’s interpolation of “C.B.E.” is wrong (anyway, that is a civilian honour).
Perhaps it is a misprint for “K.C.V.O.” (Knight-Commander of the Royal Victorian Order), although “K.C.B.” (...of the Order of the Bath) is a more usual distinction for an army officer, unless he has served as a royal equerry or had some other personal connection with the royal household - not unlikely for a Guards officer.
threepence ha’penny per annum (Ch.18; page 312)
About 1.5 p per year, in decimal money.
Chapter 19 (Ch.19; page 313)
Gally Takes Matters in Hand
Runs from pp. 313 to 318 in the Herbert Jenkins edition
Bruce spider (Ch.19; page 314)
Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, was defeated six times by the English. In exile on the island of Rathlin in 1307, he is supposed to have watched a spider succeed in building a web at the seventh attempt, and taken the cue to have another bash at his long-suffering southern neighbours.
the Price of the Papers (Ch.19; page 314)
The British Library does not have a play of this title in its catalogue, nor do others I have tried.
Home Counties (Ch.19; page 317)
The [former] counties which contain London are Middlesex and Surrey; the surrounding counties of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex (clockwise from the Thames estuary) are also usually considered as Home Counties. English counties have been revised a couple of times over the last century, this list is according to the situation as it was in 1918.
Pepys (Ch.19; page 318)
Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) rose to become President of the Royal Society and Secretary of the Admiralty, one of the most important civil service jobs of the day.
He is, however, best known for his diaries (1660–1669), which he kept in cipher, presenting a frank and racy account of life in seventeenth century London.
it was at Ascot... (Ch.19; page 318)
In Murphy’s reconstruction, the incident of the prawns occurs at Henley.
[Murphy, N. T. P., Reminiscences of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood (1993) ]